When the client’s conduct is insulting. How much of it do you have to take?

March 20, 2012 § 3 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

I was having dinner with a colleague several weeks ago, and we were talking about a situation that had recently happened to her that I know happens to many of us.  One day she was contacted by a State District Attorney’s  office from one of the states in the U.S.  They asked her to help with her expertise as a linguist and interpreter during a criminal trial.  Because the trial was taking place in a different state from where she lived, it was agreed that the DA’s office would mail her a video of a police interview that apparently had been poorly interpreted.  My colleague agreed, the conversation ended, and she hung up.

As the weeks went by, she did not hear from them and she got busy with other work.  Finally, one day out of the blue she got an e-mail telling her that the video had been mailed and she should receive it in a couple of days.  Again, after a waiting period that was quite lengthier than two days, the video arrived. My colleague opened the envelope and there was a video with no enclosure letter or any way to know what she was expected to do.  She contacted this DA’s office and as a result she got an e-mail telling her what the interpreter on the video had done wrong.  As soon as my colleague realized who the interpreter was, she knew the rendition would be less than satisfactory as this person has a “reputation” that transcends borders.  However, everything that the Spanish- speaking paralegal at the DA’s office pointed out as serious mistakes seemed irrelevant in my colleague’s expert opinion.

Because of these irregularities she decided to e-mail the assistant DA to ask him what it was that they wanted her to do and to remind them of her fee.  In other words, she did not want them to spend money for something that was probably unnecessary.  The attorney answered back asking her to only listen to the relevant parts, and to listen only once to avoid a “hefty” bill. He then informed her that they wanted her to testify as an interpreter, not an expert, and that for this reason they believed that it was not necessary to pay her as an expert.  Moreover, to add insult to injury, the attorney told her that they would subpoena her so that she had to appear in court at her own expense, this way avoiding payment of travel expenses.

Obviously, after taking a deep breath, and reacting in a way more civilized way than I would, she “suggested” they should look for another person within their state who would be willing to do that. She politely explained that she would not even watch the video, as this would generate “unnecessary expenses” to the DA’s office, and she sent them off, hopefully forever.  Does the story sound familiar to many of you?  It amazes me how such a specialized taskforce as the District Attorney’s office can be so ignorant about interpretation.  The story reminded me of the reasons why I tend to stay away from court cases at the state level, as my patience is almost exhausted after all these years. I would like to hear what you have to say about this situation, and how you have handled similar scenarios when they have happened to you.

§ 3 Responses to When the client’s conduct is insulting. How much of it do you have to take?

  • Unbeleivable. Not respect at all for our profession.

  • Jeff says:

    It was smart to get all the information first and to not watch the video. You cannot be a witness to something you did not see.

  • Clarence E. Williamson says:

    Sounds like a clash of the professionals to me. People working at States Attorneys offices are professional too, at least they are supposed to be. Upon receiving the inquiry via tele, a professional interpreter would require that whatever it is that the requesting professional needs or wants just has to be written up professionally and professionally sent to the interpreter. After a review of the professionally written request by the interpreter, a response is given back to the requestor and the makings of a contract is formed. In that way you have the beginnings of a professional relationship, but to do business piecemeal on the phone only invites false assumptions and misunderstandings.
    As a court reporter privy to sooo many hearings, people who go wrong at the outset of a contract find that the wrongness escalates and permutates from there. Those who have a well written (professionally that is) contract rarely lose in the end and in this case all parties apparently did not do well.

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