October 23, 2012 § 3 Comments
This Friday I will be presenting during the ATA Annual Conference in San Diego. This is nothing new of course. Many of you have attended my presentations in the past; however, this time I will be covering ethics for interpreters.
That’s right, I will be delivering a presentation on that arid subject that most of us need in order to (at least) keep our licenses, certifications, or registrations current. The title of the presentation is: “The Client-Attorney Privilege and the Interpreter’s Duty to Maintain Confidentiality.” As you can see, it is a legal interpretation topic that up until now has been little explored by our colleagues, by the Judiciary and by the Bar. When I decided to tackle the “ethics presentation” one-ton gorilla in the room, I set some goals: First, the presentation had to be useful. I had to find a topic that interests interpreters, but more importantly, I had to look for something that would help them with their career; something that they could use time and again for the rest of their professional lives. Then, I decided to find a way to do it fun. Of course, we will not have stand-up comedy (Darn. I guess I thought of it too late to incorporate it) but we will have fun by making this session an interactive exchange where we all explore concrete situations that we face in our profession, and try to find a solution that is legal, ethical, and good for our practice (meaning: our business!) How many of us know when we are legally bound to do or abstain from doing something because of the person we are working for? How do we know when we are covered by the client-attorney privilege and when we are not? How do we stand up to a Judge when we are ordered to do something we are legally barred from doing? These are some of the everyday scenarios legal interpreters face all the time at courthouses, law offices, jails, board meetings, hospitals, and many other settings. The goal is that by the end of the session we will all understand the client-attorney privilege, when it affects the work of an interpreter, how it influences what we do, and what are the differences between this privilege and our ethical duty to uphold confidentiality. I believe that the practical cases I have selected will teach us how to correct some behaviors, how to detect a potential problem, and how to look for a solution. While we do this, I will also try to dissipate some myths about so-called privileges like the medical, religious, and others. My opinion is that this session represents a great way to get those ethics credits that you may still need, and at the same time you will learn something that will benefit your interpretation practice and business. The session will be presented in English. I invite you to join me this Friday, October 26 in the sapphire H room at 2:00 PM, and then, after the session is over, I invite you to join me and our good friend Freek Lankhof at the InTrans Book Service stand (6 & 7 of the Exhibition Hall) from 3:30-4:00 PM for a book signing of my new court interpreter manual: “The New Professional Court Interpreter.” I am sure you will like the book.
Please join me for a fun and useful interpreter ethics session in San Diego!
September 10, 2012 § 25 Comments
For many years I have heard colleagues say that we cannot talk about what we charge. I have seen how a simple question about price can turn the sweetest colleagues into the meanest medieval executioners. The reason for this behavior? Someone told somebody a long time ago that it was illegal to talk about what we charge as professionals. I must confess that this “ethical principle” (not compiled anywhere by the way) has always bother me, but after seeing how a simple question about fees turns interpreters into the Incredible Hulk, for a long time I kept my mouth shut, I looked the other way.
The thing is, I cannot do it anymore! The more I teach about interpreter ethics, the more I see how this myth has done a disservice to the profession.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to free speech to all individuals in this country. It has no limitations except for the ones set by the Court (You cannot scream “Fire!” inside a movie theater) and by the law: civil and criminal liability in cases of libel or slander. Out of these exceptions, free speech is probably the most cherished human right in the world.
According to the United States Constitution, Can I go around talking about my interpretation and translation fees with everybody? Yes I can! But, Why did they tell me that it was against the law and that I could lose my court certification if I did? Because of a misunderstanding. The law prohibits monopolies, it is illegal to fix prices for goods and services. The market should decide how much my services are worth. In other words, I can talk about my fees with all my colleagues, clients, relatives, etc., I can even advertise them on line, over the phone, on TV, and the list goes on. The thing we cannot do is get together and decide on a universal price for a service. Fixing prices is against the law. But, if you just talk about fees, even if more than one interpreter or translator ends up charging exactly the same, there is nothing to worry about.
Think of it this way: Gas stations sell the same product, they advertise their prices on the road for everybody to see, they are often next to each other, and may times they charge the same price. It is perfectly legal because they have not fixed the price. That is why the guy down the street sells gas for less and maybe for that reason he makes more money.
Next time a colleague asks you how much you charge for a day of conference, per translated word, or I ask you your hourly rate for a deposition, engage in the conversation, there is nothing wrong. You will learn from this experience and so will your colleagues. We need to know the law to obey it and to exercise our rights. My question to all of you is: Even if you know that discussing fees is not illegal, Do you feel comfortable doing it? If you do not, I am curious to read your reasons for not talking price with other colleagues.
June 25, 2012 § 2 Comments
As an interpreter who also teaches continuing education I am especially receptive to comments and criticisms by colleagues who attend continuing education workshops. I pay attention to what they have to say, good or bad, about a class they took, whether it is a college-sponsored seminar or a privately organized presentation. Many times I hear good things about the subject matter or the presenter, but it seems to me that the most popular complaint is that the classes are boring and they do not give anything to the interpreter that he or she can use to improve performance, access to the professional market, or plain and simple have a better income.
When I decided to teach continuing education for interpreters, transcribers, and translators many years ago, I made the decision to teach interesting topics that could aid the professional linguist in his or her career. This is what I have done all over the United States. Many of my students and workshop attendees have told me how they learned something that made a difference in their careers. I have always believed that a good interpreter must know his craft, and must provide ethical service. With this belief in mind, I have presented ethics and practical subject matters in different formats: One-hour to all-day presentations at national and regional conferences, multi-day workshops at colleges or privately sponsored events, and one-on-one tutorials. By taking my seminars, colleagues have passed court interpreter certification exams, they have been hired as staff interpreters, and they have secured professional contracts with governments and corporations.
This Friday I will be teaching a court interpreter ethics class in Columbus Ohio at the invitation of the Ohio Supreme Court. The day-long seminar will cover many relevant aspects of ethical interpreting in the court system, will analyze the code of ethics at the federal and state levels, and will give local interpreters an opportunity to test their knowledge and comprehension of interpreter ethics while participating in useful and fun practical exercises. The seminar, presented in English, will meet continuing education requirements for the Ohio court certification program and others.
On Saturday I will give a half-day presentation on Mexican legal terminology at the Texas Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (TAJIT) IN San Antonio. The presentation will focus on Mexican Spanish legal terminology in Criminal, Civil, Family and Administrative Law. Those attending will get a better idea of the Mexican legal system, its similarities, and its differences with the American system, but more importantly, will teach them the methodology to research the meaning and significance of legal figures, terms, and principles. The idea is that at the end of this presentation the interpreters will be able to better understand what they do, and will feel comfortable about taking Mexican attorneys and businesses as their clients. Those attending this presentation in Spanish will receive continuing education credits in Texas, New Mexico, and other states.
I invite you to attend these classes and I encourage you to tell me what you would like to see as continuing education topics that I may teach in the future.