How to Work with a Legal Interpreter

U.S. Legal Support
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U.S. Legal Support

[author: Ninette Caneda]

Employment of interpreters and translators in the U.S. is projected to grow 24% from 2020 to 2030. This boom aligns with the accelerating growth of the immigrant population from across the globe; between 2015 and 2065 immigrants will account for a projected 88% of the total U.S. population growth. This diverse population means that many languages other than English are routinely spoken in the U.S—approximately 422, to be exact. As language variety expands across the country, the need for interpreters in a variety of settings will rise, including for legal proceedings.

How to Use an Interpreter Effectively

In order to know how to use an interpreter to the best advantage, it’s important to first understand when they are needed and what’s required.

An interpreter must be used in any legal proceeding where those involved have limited English understanding or are not English-speaking. Once you’ve completed the discovery phase for a case, every phase after that—deposition, trial, hearings, meetings, medical exams via opposing counsel’s physicians—must involve an interpreter.

But not just any interpreter will do. It’s crucial to work with an interpreter who intimately understands the legal industry, including legal verbiage and jargon, and how the legal process itself works. It’s also vital to understand interpreter regulations in the state in which you’re conducting the legal proceeding.

Some states require that interpreters be certified, while others do not. In states where it is required, interpreters must specifically be court-certified. In these cases, the courts provide the testing and a good portion of the classes needed to earn this certification. Only court-certified interpreters are allowed to participate in legal proceedings in states where certification requirements exist.

In addition, states vary on the number of languages they will certify for interpretation. Because it can be hard to keep up with testing, most states limit certification to a handful of basic languages. For instance, Florida only certifies about three to eight languages. On the other hand, California requires that fifteen languages be certified.

What to Look for in a Legal Interpretation Services Provider

High standards. To get the best quality interpreting services, look for a provider that holds all its interpreters to the standards of the most stringent states (regardless of location), and who offers trained interpreters in a diverse array of languages, including sign language for the deaf or hard of hearing.

Dedicated legal experience. For example, all U.S. Legal Support interpreters are trained professionals who have a minimum of five years’ legal experience – even in states and languages that don’t require certification. This means that most U.S. Legal Support interpreters have worked for the courts or have worked as an in-house interpreter for a law firm in order to gain legal experience before partnering with us.

When hiring an interpreter, you also want to look for those who have a thorough understanding of the legal process and its requirements; for example, interpreters who already know you cannot speak in the third person, must interpret exactly what is being stated vs. summarizing, etc. Not just any “warm body” will do. Any errors on the part of an interpreter could jeopardize a case by providing opposing counsel with ammunition, or by forcing a proceeding to be canceled and rescheduled in order to find a more appropriate interpreter for the proceedings.

Familiarity with dialects. Not only is an understanding of legal terminology important, so is understanding of the dialect. In some countries, slang is more commonly used in one region than in another, or a word’s meaning can differ from one part of a country to another. Depending on where the speaker is from, this could greatly impact the meaning of what is being said. So, make sure your interpreting services provider performs a dialect check on the assigned interpreter to ensure they are knowledgeable about both language idiosyncrasies and the subject matter itself.

Nationwide service. Finally, look for providers whose services span the entire U.S. Smaller regional providers may struggle to cover requests in other parts of the country, and newer providers may not yet have a cache of qualified interpreters at-the-ready.

Final Thoughts for Using Legal Interpretation Services

Prior to the pandemic, most courts were reluctant to allow remote interpreting to occur via video and interpreters were required to be onsite. Today, most courts feel comfortable allowing interpretation to take place via remote video. This means, in the event that an assigned interpreter gets sick or cannot continue with a case for any reason, it is much easier to find a replacement on short notice.

Remote interpretation also saves a significant amount of money on travel, parking and other expenses involved with physically bringing an interpreter to a case location. It’s also much easier to secure interpretation services for proceedings that involve entities located in other countries or that take place in other countries.

From a legal standpoint, having reliable interpreting services when and where needed can play a pivotal role in keeping the wheels of justice turning. And, as the pace of both criminal and civil proceedings picks back up again following a pandemic-related pause, it’s more important than ever to be ready at a moment’s notice.

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