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Apparatus often used by a court interpreter.
According to the latest census data, there are over 13 million people in the U.S. who don’t speak English well enough to communicate with legal counsel. These numbers have tripled in the last 30 years while overall population growth during that time has only been about 38%. Two-thirds of non-English speakers speak Spanish. Other languages that have increased are Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Persian, Armenian, Korean, and Tagalog. Hindi and Swahili have also increased significantly.
Lawyers representing clients who don’t speak English well can run into problems that may present risks to their practices. Some of these risks may also occur when the client speaks English, but witnesses or other parties in the litigation do not.
The issues that arise when lawyers represent non-English speaking clients are possible breach of confidentiality, the possibility that the translator has an independent agenda, and accuracy.
Normally, what a client says to a lawyer is private, and the lawyer doesn’t have to – in fact, isn’t allowed to – reveal it to anyone else. When an interpreter is involved, however, that confidentiality can be at risk.
The sticking point is whether the interpreter is “official” or “unofficial.” Unofficial interpreters can be compelled to testify about what was said if the judge determines that the interpreter wasn’t really needed for communication with the client. Official interpreters, who have been tested for competency and are hired by the lawyer, can never be compelled to testify.
Some interpreters may have an agenda that is different from the client’s, and this agenda may lead them to inaccurately interpret a client’s words. These issues more commonly arise with unofficial translators, who may be connected to immigration, family law, or even a criminal case. Using official translators prevents these problems from occurring.
Giving an inaccurate translation, either purposefully or not, can affect a case and expose a lawyer to liabilities. It is difficult for lawyers to tell if the translation is accurate since they wouldn’t need a translator if they spoke and understood the language. Some ways to ensure accuracy are to check and recheck interviews and to ask a lot of questions. These questions can not only help the translation be more accurate, but it can sometimes expose the agenda of the interpreter if one exists.
Another way to ensure that an accurate translation is given is to bring someone to court who can verify the accuracy of the translation. This could be someone from your law office, a friend, or bystander who may not be skilled enough to be the interpreter, but can understand the language enough to verify whether the translation is accurate.
It is the lawyer’s responsibility to go over court rules with any interpreter and make sure interpreters understand that they are expected to give an accurate and unbiased translation. If any issues come up with accuracy, the interpreter will need to be replaced to ensure that the proceedings are fairly conducted.
Jurors sometimes respond differently to non-English speakers in court.
Using an interpreter can sometimes cause problems with jurors. Some jurors just don’t trust someone who doesn’t speak English. On the other hand, some jurors (usually Spanish-speaking) think they can understand the non-English speaker, and can sometimes misinterpret the testimony. That happens because there are many different dialects of Spanish, so words that sound similar can have different meanings. Using voir dire, or the examination of the juror will reveal these situations so that the jurors can be excluded.
Dynamic Language provides professional translation services for many different situations, including legal interpretation services for court proceedings. Request a quote today.
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