When you think of a legal interpreter, you probably don’t picture someone sitting on a bench in the Everglades or on a couch in a New York City high-rise apartment. You likely picture someone sitting around a conference room table or in the courtroom, translating speech between parties in real time. When it comes to interpreting in the legal industry, all of these scenarios, and more, are possible. Legal interpreters often find themselves meeting interesting people in what some would consider exotic locations and under unique circumstances. From interpreting during a deposition, mediation, arbitration or trial, to meetings and interviews, legal interpreters help overcome barriers when multiple languages and dialects are spoken.
We sat down with a professional legal interpreter, Nicolas Olano of South Florida, to discuss what a day in the life of an interpreter looks like and hear a little about some of the more unique circumstances he’s interpreted in.
How many years have you been interpreting?
I have been a professional interpreter for more than ten years, but I have interpreted many situations throughout my life prior to interpreting as a full-time job.
What languages do you interpret?
I interpret the Spanish language of all nationalities and regions.
What has been the most interesting case that you have interpreted?
One of the most interesting cases of my career was a deposition of a husband whose wife had just been murdered. During questioning, his responses weren’t all quite adding up. He was responding to questions with blatant lies which contradicted the evidence and casually gave us little pieces of information here and there that hinted to him committing the crime.
A few hours into the deposition, and a lot chatting later, the husband ended up nearly admitting to committing the crime and telling on himself! The attorney and I could not believe that he just continuously shared so much information which led us to determine that he in fact had killed his wife. After we walked out of the deposition, the attorney immediately called the State Attorney General and the husband was surely sentenced to prison.
What has been the most interesting place you have visited for an interpretation?
On a daily basis, I typically find myself interpreting within the walls of a courtroom. But one of my favorite places that I have visited on the job was the jungles of Bolivia (Tarija) for some of my Italian clients.
On another occasion, a court reporter, attorney and I had gone to take a deposition from the client’s home. The client’s home was a cozy apartment with all of his four children as well as his wife home at the time of the deposition. Given that this would not have been the quietest environment for a deposition, we ended up taking the deposition from a public park bench in the Everglades.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most in-person proceedings have now transitioned to remote formats. How has this changed the interpreting process for you?
I have found that the COVID-19 pandemic has made my interpreting process much easier. I am able to observe the parties more closely and I have found it easier to ask for a repetition of an utterance. A bonus – not having a commute!
What was your first remote interpreting experience like?
Prior to COVID-19, I had been interpreting over the phone for many years. So, remote interpreting has not been new for me. However, the widespread adoption of videoconferencing has made my job much easier than interpreting over the phone as I’m able to see people’s faces which makes it easier to read their lips, too.
What do you enjoy most about being an interpreter?
I have found that interpreting has been a fulfilling and enjoyable career. Although I no longer interpret full-time, I still take on plenty of cases and interpreting jobs throughout my week. The demands of interpreting have allowed me to continuously work toward perfecting my expertise daily, as well as keeping my brain active and sharp. I’ve been fortunate to travel to some exciting locations and have met some really interesting people along the way. It’s a fun profession as each day is different and I feel the impact my work has on clients immediately. It’s satisfying to help people communicate and break down barriers.
What recommendations would you offer attorneys to ensure a smooth remote proceeding?
I recommend that attorneys ask their clients to pay close attention to the questions and answer in short, concise sentences to avoid interpreting errors. When taking a deposition, consider the level of education of the deponent and ask concise questions.
I have found that within the Spanish vernacular, it is important to use the proper address when speaking to the correspondent. For example, in Latin American countries, the way to address a judge is “Su Señoria” and you refer to the attorney as a doctor, etc. I have found that not doing so can create confusion for the witness.