Effective depositions require team interpreting.

August 8, 2018 § 10 Comments

Dear colleagues:

I was recently part of a two-interpreter team that interpreted for 2 depositions. They each took a full day; they were complicated because of the subject; they were difficult because of the deponents; they were important because of their crucial part in the litigation process; they were stressful because of the financial impact the outcome of the case will have once it is decided in court or settled by the parties; and they were exhausting even for two interpreters.

As I was rendering this service, I remembered the many times I have heard colleagues say that depositions can be interpreted solo because they are interpreted consecutively. Honestly, I do not know how this could be possible without compromising the flow of the testimony, the timing of the questions, or the quality of the rendition.

I rarely interpret depositions, but the two or three times a year I am asked to do it, it is always as part of a team of two experienced legal interpreters directly hired by one of the law firms I work with. I know the fact that many agencies contact interpreters for these assignments and ask them to interpret solo. It is clear they follow this practice not because they believe depositions are simple enough to be interpreted by one interpreter, but because they are putting money before quality. Many attorneys, who do not know better, buy into this idea, and by accepting this practice, they contribute to the perpetuation of the idea that consecutive interpreting in a deposition setting does not require team interpreting.

Before the actual deposition, like in any assignment, my partner and I had to study all materials relevant to the case, we had to travel to another state the day before these depositions, check into a hotel, get to the venue the following morning (in a different time zone) early enough to assess the place and determine where we would sit during the sessions, and set up our iPad and other materials at the boardroom table where the deposition was to take place.

The depositions were complicated because of the technical matters discussed, the many dates, places, names, etcetera. They were also difficult because of the deponents’ reluctance to answer the questions. Both deponents spoke Spanish, but they were from different countries, different gender, they had a different background, and conflicting interests regarding the outcome of the case.

Because the attorneys and interpreters were from out of town, the Law Firm was interested in finishing the matter in two days. This meant long hours with short breaks.

Even though we prepared for the assignment, and we were flooded with many documents, there were certain technical terms, types of software, and other concepts not in the package. We had to research on the run by going online and looking up concepts and products. This can only happen when you have two interpreters working as a team where one interprets (active) while the other one (passive or supporting) does the research and passes on the information found to his or her colleague.

I do not see how this could happen when working alone. The interpreter would have to request a break to research what is needed. This would bring at least four unwanted consequences: (1) The deposition would take longer, generating additional costs when held out of town; (2) It would break the rhythm of the dialogue between attorney and deponent, causing attorneys to lose their train of thought; (3) It would cut the flow of an answer by interrupting the way the deponent is describing or telling something, or in another scenario, it would give a deponent time to think an answer eliminating the effect intended by the attorney asking the questions; and (4) The interpreter’s rendition could be compromised because on top of the complex and exhausting task of interpreting everything alone, he or she would now undertake another tiring task: research in a hurry because you are holding up the deposition. To compensate, attorneys would shorten the breaks and the interpreter would have to work more than originally expected with less time to rest.

On both days, we shortened our active interpreter shifts towards the end of the day so we could maintain the quality level of the interpretation. On both days the passive, supporting interpreter, had to research during the sessions; and as always, when you work as a team, we both consulted with each other when needed (doubts about a term, a number, a regional or technical expression) by simply exchanging notes without interrupting the deposition. I will not even mention the impromptu “saves” during a coughing attack or a bathroom emergency.

Depositions happen in civil cases where there is often a lot of money on the line. My experience is that attorneys who do this work are very receptive to the advantages of having the interpreting service provided by a team. They get the importance of a smooth deposition, and they understand the costs saved by avoiding prolonged sessions because of continuous interpreter breaks. As experienced attorneys, they know the difference between a fresh interpreter and an exhausted one. They are aware of how difficult our work is, and they trust our professional advice. For this reason, they will go for a team of interpreters instead of a solo. I would say to those of you who claim this is impossible because the agencies will not go for it: Talk directly to the law office. Do not wait for an agency to find you for a deposition. Go out there and find your attorney clients yourselves. It has worked for me. I now ask you to comment, and I would like to hear what you do when you are unfortunately interpreting a deposition by yourself and you need time to research something where attorneys are working under time constraints because of financial considerations or due to their professional agendas or the availability of the deponents.

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§ 10 Responses to Effective depositions require team interpreting.

  • Tony, experienced interpreters and attorneys know this is the way to go. Sadly, agencies continue to refuse using team interpreting for lengthy depositions and too many colleagues, not all of them new to the profession, continue accepting these work conditions.
    As you mentioned, we must be proactive. We are the ones who need to educate judges, attorneys, and agencies – and remind our own colleagues the do’s and don’ts of our professional best practices, not only for our benefit but for the betterment of the judicial system itself.

    Thank you for all the time and energy you invest to support the growth of our profession and the knowledge you so generously share with all of us.

  • Carmen Mustile says:

    No comment needs to be added to Claudia’s. Agree.
    I have done a large number of deposition, the ones that are all the same topic, slip and fall, auto accident, I feel I can handle them very well by myself, the depo is usually under three hrs.
    But the complex depositions, medical malpractice or business are very exhausting and can be better handled in tandem interpreting for the sacred sake of less brain exhaustion and accuracy.
    I have been in depositions where I was just observed…not helped or worked in tandem. I feel it is still in its infancy team interpreting in deposition.
    I exclusively work with agencies, I use the time to look for job for further my education and practice in interpreting, so I really don’t have the time to advertise among law firm my service. Do you have any quick data base that I can introduce my service to? Furthermore when I am hired for the job, based on my reputation and experience, who is going to select the second interpreter for hire?
    In my language pair there are not many qualified interpreters available. So, in my opinion, as a professional judiciary interpreter, it is imperative to prepare before hand, read the complaint, look up concept and legislation, talk to the LEP to understand the various dialects…(I know the latter can only happen a few minutes before the depo)
    As far as the agencies, lawyers, judges and court reporters, I have a message here for you:

    WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND IF WE WANT TO COMMUNICATE AND WE NEED TO COMMUNICATE IF WE WANT TO BE UNDERSTOOD.
    Thank you Tony

    I love your newsletters and experience in the field of communication!!!

  • Kathleen Morris says:

    Tony’s blog is very apropos. Just today, I turned down a 7-hour deposition for that very reason: The client, a law firm, had “never used” a team before, and the agency did not want to inconvenience them in order to require this.

    I would have made good money doing this assignment, but at the expense of my voice and concentration ability. I would be exhausted and drained, both mentally and physically. I happily turned them down! No amount of money is worth compromising your health or the integrity of the interpretation.

    I am certain that this agency quickly found someone (certified? who knows?) willing to take this job, going solo, with less than one-day notice. I have no regrets about my decision, and will take adequate rest periods and the preservation of my mental sanity, any day, for all the reasons mentioned by Tony..

    • Carmen Mustile says:

      I had taken the same decision. No need to go insane for lack of knowledge regarding the importance of accuracy !! We are not machines but humans! Well done.

  • Sylvia Andrade says:

    I do a lot of workers comp depositions. I also do a lot of medical interpretation. I research terminology in my free time. I also always check as to the country of origin of the deponent.. I think the most valid argument is that the deponent,who in many cases speaks good English, has more time to think about the answer.

  • Jaime M. de Castellví says:

    I keep all NAJIT position papers and such other relevant materials to help educate clients on file as .pdfs on my portable, so that in a pinch I can attach e-mail them to attorneys, colleagues, agencies, judges, etc. I think I’m going to save this one as a .pdf to that critical reference folder. This is an excellent article, most relevant and helpful. Thank you, Tony! (and Bailey’s is still for wimps… ; )

  • James says:

    As a conference and judicial interpreter AND agency owner with a lot of deposition experience, I agree that there is a misconception that consecutive interpreting is not as exhausting as simultaneous. So, the general rule has been team interpreting for simul/conference work and solo interpreting for consec. However, a long stretch of consec interpreting with few breaks is extremely grueling. While solo interpreting remains the norm for depositions (most of which take 2 to 3 hours), using team interpreting would be great for long, complex cases where the stakes are high and clients can more readily be convinced of the need to pay for two interpreters for all of the solid reasons you cite.

    Unfortunately, it will be difficult for this to catch on, as it is no minor price increase. How would any of us react if our mechanic, accountant, or dentist said the cost of the service just doubled? Also, it is a change to the long-standing norms for consec versus simul interpreting in our profession that we have tried hard to educate clients and the public about. While not impossible, but it will require education, convincing and turning away clients who can easily chose to hire a solo interpreter. Interpreters and agencies who have better opportunities and are comfortable turning this business away will lead in this trend, but it will not be easy for those who depend on income from depositions to double the cost to their clients.

    While it is the common refrain among interpreters to bash agencies and I whole-heartedly join in the criticism of those who denigrate our profession, please remember that there are many ethical LSPs run by language professionals themselves. Agencies are not the only obstacle here. After all, if a company can send two interpreters instead of one to a deposition, the company makes more money. The problem is convincing clients of this and not alienating them.

    In response to your question about terminology research on the fly in depositions, on the rare occasions where I have to stop proceedings to research a term, I follow the usual protocols for this and state on the record that the interpreter must seek clarification, search online or in my dictionary app or ask a clarifying question to straighten it out without too much delay. Obviously, interpreters cannot do this often and as you have argued, cases with a lot of complex terminology would be best handled with team interpreting to keep things flowing smoothly.

  • David Lauman says:

    Thank you for your interesting and useful post, Tony! On average, how much faster would you say a team-interpreted deposition goes than one with an interpreter working solo?

    • David, thank you for your comments. It is difficult to answer. It depends on the subject and complexity of the deposition. Overall, it will go faster because with two interpreters there is no need to break to preserve interpreter’s stamina and mind sharpness

  • Ingrid says:

    Great comments! How can we convince our colleagues to ask for a team of interpreters?

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