The scary things deposition interpreters post on social media.

May 17, 2021 § 8 Comments

Dear colleagues:

There are at least two very disturbing things happening on interpreters’ social media: colleagues posting information and images of distance interpreting conference assignments they do (we will discuss this issue separately at a later time) and interpreters complaining or editorializing depositions they interpreted.

It is common to see social media posts by legal interpreters complaining about the things attorneys do in a deposition. Comments like: “I wish attorneys spoke plainly so deponents understand the question;” or “attorneys object to everything because they know their case is a loser;” or “attorneys object in depositions to preserve grounds for an appeal,” are not just unprofessional, they are wrong, and they show the interpreter commenting does not observe the ethical duties of confidentiality and client-attorney privilege, does not act as an officer of the court, and they show this interpreter knows little about depositions, an essential skill to work as a legal interpreter providing this service. I am concerned about this trend because it puts all legal interpreters in a bad spot. Legal interpreters must be trustworthy, and no attorney in their right mind will retain the services of an interpreter who gives play-by-play accounts or opinions of what happens at a deposition and posts them on social media for everyone to see. Hiring such an interpreter would be attorney malpractice.

Attorneys asking the questions in a deposition represents the opposing party, and they are there to find a factual basis to advance their clients’ interests. Depositions are part of the discovery in a civil case through fact-finding and impeaching. Helping the deponent would be malpractice.

Attorneys who object to what is said at the deposition are doing their job and fulfilling one of the attorneys’ duties: to vigorously represent their client. Attorneys do not object to preserve grounds for an appeal; they do it to preserve a record in order to file motions to exclude testimony or other evidence from the trial. Objections to questions not raised at a deposition are treated as waived and lawyers cannot raise them later at trial. To appeal there needs to be a court decision or determination, and depositions take place before there is a trial. When an objection is made during the deposition, judges have not ruled on any evidence or testimony presented during the deposition. Posting comments such as the ones I included above will show the interpreter ignores the purpose of a deposition. This will hurt the profession and directly harm this interpreter who will never move on up to the high-profile cases, and the most prestigious law firms worldwide.

Before accepting an assignment to interpret in a deposition, do your homework, learn the law, find out the parties’ role, and understand depositions are not court hearings, and court interpreting does not qualify as deposition interpreting experience. After taking the assignment, abstain from posting comments or opinions on social media. Even positive comments may violate confidentiality of client-attorney privilege rules. Limit your postings to general topics and stay away from the specific case. Ninety-nine percent of the time, interpreters at a deposition are not there working for the foreign-language speaking deponent or their attorney. They are retained and paid by the attorney asking the questions. Before we interpret, it is a good idea to find out who hired us, directly or indirectly through an agency, before we badmouth a lawyer. I now ask you to share your thoughts on this issue.  

Our options when the client does not pay.

May 3, 2021 § 6 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Sometimes freelance interpreters face a scenario where a client agrees to pay a professional fee, and after the interpretation they refuse to pay, make a late payment, or try to pay less than the fee agreed by the parties. It is not unusual to hear from a colleague struggling to stay afloat as a business because of morose or dishonest clients.

The first thing we must do is assess the client before agreeing to the service, we have to do our homework, find out who the client is, what is their track record. This due diligence is essential to decide if we want to enter a professional relationship or not. The next step should be a negotiation where you listen to the potential client’s needs, establish your conditions, and give expert advice to the client. Once an agreement is acceptable to both parties, you must sign a contract, preferably your own, or the client’s when they require it, as long as all your negotiated conditions are included.

Many times, there is not enough time for a lengthy negotiation, especially when this assignment is short or urgent. When you find yourselves in this situation, negotiate by email, text, or over a telephone or video call. Do noy skip this step. Many times, there is no time to draft a lengthy, written contract; some clients have a less formal approach to their hiring practices. That is fine, but there is something you must do regardless of the situation or the client: You must have proof of the essential terms of the negotiation, in case you have to take action against that client.  Let it be very clear I am not giving you legal advice; if you need legal assistance, please see an attorney in your jurisdiction. I am only sharing what I do in these cases:

Email or text your client, even if you were just retained and you are on your way to the assignment; even if you are on the phone with the client. Just let them know you are sending an email spelling out the conditions just discussed because you need it for your internal paperwork. This text or email must include all relevant terms of the agreement, and it should be short and straight to the point. Something like: “Per our recent conversation, this is to confirm that you have retained me to interpret “X” Conference (or other event) to take place in (city and country, or on “X” platform to be used if RSI) on (dates and times of the event). My fee will be “X” amount per day (up to 4, 6 or 7 hours, depending on the type of service: distance or in-person) with an OT hourly rate of “X” amount after that, payable within (30, 45) days from the time I send my electronic invoice to this same email address, and a late interest payment of “X” percent if not paid on time. Please confirm these terms by responding to this email the word: “Confirmed”.

Then, in small print (to keep the email short) but before my signature, I add: “It is agreed by the parties that the recipient of this communication has 48 hours from the date of this email to reject its terms, and not responding to this communication within that time will constitute agreement to all the terms in this communication.” Once again, remember this is not legal advice. Please consult an attorney if you have questions.

When a client does not pay by the date agreed in the contract, send them an email (never a phone call because you want to have proof of this communication) attaching your invoice with a legend stating “Overdue.” And politely “remind” them of the payment. This is enough in most cases. If the client cries poverty, or ignores you, wait 30 days or whatever is customary in your country but charge late payment interest. After that, you repeat the same 30 days later. If the client does not pay, then retain a collection agency. They will charge you to collect, but that is better than nothing. Finally, if this does not work, or if you prefer to skip the collection agency step, take the client to court. Sue for payment of your fees, late payment interests, court costs, and attorney’s fees (when retaining a lawyer). Most morose clients will settle at this time, but if they do not, move ahead with the lawsuit and get a judgement against the client. This does not guarantee you will collect any money, but will go to the client’s credit report. You should also take that judgement to the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, and local Consumer Affairs authority where the client resides. Next, report the incident and provide copy of the final judgement to the client’s professional associations (for disciplinary action) and to your local, national, and international interpreter associations so this client can be included in all black lists to benefit your colleagues. Finally, if applicable, share this information with the ethnic media target of that client’s business, and share it on your social media, just stating the facts, without editorializing to avoid any future complications. This will get your money most of the time, and will teach a lesson to those who violate your professional services contract. It will also send a message to others that you take your work seriously. I now ask you to share with the rest of us your policy to avoid this breach of contract, or to collect unpaid fees.

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