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.

Is the U.S. Supreme Court Decision Defining the Concept of “Interpreter” Good for Judicial Interpreters? Part II.

June 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

After dealing with the bigger issues affected by the Alito decision affirming the definition of an interpreter in the Taniguchi case, I now direct your attention to the more practical consequences of the decision.   First, this was a decision by the United States Supreme Court about the court fees in a case involving legal translation. In other words, it does not affect anything outside the U.S., it does not affect any interpreters and translators in non-judicial settings, and it does not directly apply to any court interpreters and translators at the state and local jurisdictions.  Of course, what I indicated above will stop nobody from bragging about the affirmation of the interpreter concept by the Supremes.

It is really our legal interpreter and translator friends and colleagues who will be dealing with the aftermath of the decision. The parties in federal civil cases will be more reluctant and careful when retaining the services of a legal translator.  Private Law Firms will demand lower translation fees.  The answer to this situation should be a professional and aggressive legal translator who will not give in to the desired adjustment.  We have to keep in mind that private law firms charge substantial fees for civil litigation, and they charge all costs separately from their fee. In other words, the translator will be paid with the client’s money, not the attorney’s. It is also a good idea to ask for a down payment and to draft a contract that clearly states that translation services shall be paid upon presentation of the invoice, regardless of the attorney’s plan to “recover” from the other party. That is the lawyer’s problem, not the translator.

When the attorney requesting translation services is a CJA, the interpreter must ask him to first obtain approval from the trial judge. Once the judge has signed a minute order, the translator can provide her services and then submit her invoice to the court for payment.  In all other criminal cases when the court hires the translator to translate court documents such as presentence investigation reports or plea agreements, the translator should not worry. These services are covered by the law as it is part of the defendant’s right to actively participate in his defense and the right to access to the courts. This is important to keep in mind, as there will probably be cases when the Alito decision may create some confusion as to the services that have to be paid by the court.  Remember, in this case it is the judiciary who is paying for the translation services, not a private party who has paid, and now seeks that the judge order the other party to reimburse him the fees.

It is also important to keep in mind that as a practical matter, translation services, and transcription services, can be provided and paid by the government as expert services.  Please keep handy a copy of 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(e)(1) and 28 U.S.C. § 1920(6) in case you have to argue the law with a client.   Finally, keep in mind that for some time attorneys, judges, and private citizens will be extra careful when it comes to translation services, even interpretation services could be affected by this decision of the Court.  Protect your clients, work with them; a good potential solution could be a sight translation of the voluminous documents so the attorneys can decide what it is that they really need translated. A summary translation (like the ones prepared by our military translator colleagues) can also be an option, as it will help the attorneys decide what to translate.

Be very careful, be alert, remember, if you are a court interpreter, legal interpreter, legal translator, linguistics expert witness, or legal foreign-language transcriber, the Alito decision could affect your market. I invite you to share with us any strategies that you may be following to minimize the effects of the Court decision.

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