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.  

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§ 8 Responses to The scary things deposition interpreters post on social media.

  • Madeline Rios says:

    Regardless of who retains you to interpret at a deposition, you are bound to act as a neutral party.

    • Madeline, thank you for your comment. You are right, during the rendition, interpreters must observe neutrality, and as I said, even after the assignment is over, interpreters remain bound by the ethical and legal duties of confidentiality and client-attorney privilege (when applicable). Moreover, separate from duty and obligation, to be successful and keep direct clients, we have to make sure we do not tarnish our reputation or cast doubt about our professionalism, by posting wrong information about the attorneys’ strategy and performance. Always know who your client or potential client is. This is the only way to get to high-profile cases and large international law firms.

  • I know of other sectors for example, Medical sector, whereby an Interpreter or Translator has to undergo some formal and special briefings or training, thereafter be tested after which he or she is qualified to go ahead with the interpretation/translation assignment. Doesn’t this happen in the legal sector?

    • Vincent, thank you for your comment. Yes it does. In fact, court interpreting instituted certification programs, including what you describe, years before healthcare interpreting existed as an organized profession. Unfortunately, some people disregard ethics, professionalism and common sense.

  • Armando Ezquerra Hasbun says:

    It isn’t just interpreters sharing too much about depositions. It’s practicing and aspiring interpreters boasting and over sharing who in the process, violate elementary codes of professional conduct.
    Social media is no longer the unknown it once was, but it I still a universe fraught with potential dangers. There is a need for debriefing and peer support but this should not be done out for the world to see in public chat spaces.
    This is an area that should be emphasized in Ethics training: how to respect the tenets of the profession, observe boundaries and protect their clients and their own reputation.

    Thank you Tony!

  • Gerardo H. says:

    This is a great topic for a CE course/webinar: Social Media Etiquette for Legal Interpreters.

    Also, should be similar ones for healthcare interpreters, and educational interpreters.

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