When the professional and honest translator or interpreter saves time and money to the client.

July 13, 2012 § 11 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

One time a first-class translator friend of mine contacted me to see if I would be interested in collaborating for a big legal translation project of many court and expert documents from a ten-year long procedure in Mexico.  The case was now being litigated in a federal court of the United States, and the American attorneys needed to know what exactly had happened with the case in Mexico.

The project seemed different and interesting, so I accepted the invitation.  A few weeks later I received a mountain of documents that were the equivalent to one-half of the documents obtained from Mexico to this point. My colleague received the other half.  I started reading the Mexican file and I soon realized that my colleague had received the older documents and I had the newer pile.  After many days of reading and researching, and applying my legal background, because being an attorney sometimes comes in handy, I concluded that there were many missing documents, probably the equivalent to three more years following the most recent document I already had. I also realized that most of what I had read had been reversed by an appeals court and at this moment in time was irrelevant to the case.

As I was arriving to these conclusions, my translator colleague contacted me, told me a similar story, and we decided to meet in person to compare notes. After several hours of combing through the documents, we both decided that we needed to talk to the legal team and explain what we knew.  A meeting took place, and it was decided that the rest of the documents had to be ordered from the Mexican courthouse, and that we should stop the translation until the new documents arrived, so we could again, analyze the new pleadings, and determine what needed to be translated.  At that time I realized that our hard work as legal translators had saved time and money to the attorneys. The fact that we shared what we had with the legal team, gave them the elements needed to decide what should and should not be translated.  I understand that my formation as an attorney gave us the possibility to understand better these pleadings, but the same could happen in any other field.

I believe that it is important that the legal translator be honest with the client.  In this case, we protected our client, and guaranteed an attorney-translator/interpreter relationship for years to come.  It is during these situations, when it could be so easy to translate thousands of useless pages, and still get paid, that in my opinion the real professional steps up to the plate and decides to let go.  I was very fortunate to work with such a professional colleague who understood just as I did that the most important thing is to remain professional and honest with your client.  I invite you to comment on this situation.

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§ 11 Responses to When the professional and honest translator or interpreter saves time and money to the client.

  • That is the correct thing to do. I have faced that situation many times over my 32-year career. That is the right thing to do, Tony, first form a professional point of view, and then from a marketing point of view: clients still value honesty.

  • marielena says:

    I would have done the same. We, translators, can not take advantage of our clients. Honesty is is the key to keep clients. They will call you when they ready and they will recommend you to someone else who needs a translation.

  • Steve says:

    Good work. I am sure I would have done the same.

    But sometimes we’re able to do the right thing and still make money. Once an agency sent a set of tender documents from Mexico. I worked most of the night and delivered the translation Wednesday afternoon. Thursday afternoon, I got a call from another agency, asking if I was available. The document they sent was the EXACT same thing as what I had done Tuesday and Wednesday.

    What could I do, except be quiet and give the second customer the same translation? If I had done anything differently, it would have involved telling the second customer about the first one. (The second customer got the benefit of better proofing, though.)

    • marielena says:

      Steve, It is the first time I heard an experience like that. This situation is unique and possible. In an specific situation, a lot of people will use the translation provided for the agency, but how many knows the name of the translator?

      • Steve says:

        Marielena, I should add: Only a small number of people were going to see either translation. The two end clients were competitors, US companies trying to do business in Mexico. It was very unlikely that that anybody working for end-client A would every see the version that I sent to end-client B.

  • Silvia says:


    It is always the better option to do what is best for the client, instead of charging for busywork that they don’t really need or that won’t accomplish their goal.

    Another way of saving time and money for the client, is to find out why the client is asking for any given translation, what they are trying to accomplish with it, and how they are hoping to use it.

    Many times we are given things to translate that would not accomplish the client’s purpose unless they were adapted to the target audience. To be able to adapt it successfully, it is important to have open communication lines with the client, and make sure one has the appropriate feedback process in place, to ask questions and provide suggestions, as needed.

    • Steve says:

      I was once asked to provide an English translation of a product specification in Spanish. It was a printed brochure that had been scanned. Some of the text was new to me, so I looked online and found the same description … on the manufacturer’s web site … already in English! There were also pages in Spanish; not the pages that I had been given for translation, but related products with similar technology, with what I considered to be high-quality Spanish text.

      This was an odd situation. Most likely, someone (not necessarily the manufacturer) had paid for the Spanish translation and then wanted a back-translation to see whether it was good. If that’s all they needed, then the most reasonable request would be for them to only ask for corrections to the poorly translated Spanish. This involved several scattered sections, totalling less than 10% of the work.

      This way the client would save the time and money to translate and properly format the entire brochure, about 10 pages.

      On the other hand, if they really wanted an English translation, the most cost-effective solution for me would be to simply copy the pages from the English web site and send it back in a Word document. But I felt the client needed to know that the Spanish original was not really very good, and that this could be shown by comparing it to the Spanish pages at the manufacturer’s web site.

      I asked the agency for advice. She called back the next day and said, go ahead and do the full translation. I did it and got paid but it was most unsatisfactory.

      My guess is that either (a) she didn’t ask the client because she was embarrassed, or (b) she asked, and the client said go ahead. Or: maybe a manager asked for the translation, and their subordinate didn’t dare go back to them with what the manager would consider a silly question.

  • I am doing some research about Spanish translators. This is a great information. It is unbelievable how many situations translators have to face and how they react. I am glad you shared your experience.

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  • Cassy says:

    I appreciate your professionalism and honesty towards work. Considering the client’s side and not being selfish. Good deeds!

  • I would definitely had done the same. Not only in this case, where there were several documents missing, but also when it comes to writing problems in the original documents. It is unbelievable how many mistakes people make when writing that then need to be solved in the translation process. Being honest and trying to solve not only translation issues but any other linguistic related problem for your client is a plus your offering him or her and I’m sure good clients know how to reward you for your helpful attitude. Well done!

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