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 I.

May 29, 2012 § 3 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

After watching many of our colleagues celebrating because the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the definition of an interpreter in the Taniguchi case, and more importantly, after reviewing the briefs, oral arguments, full written decision, and the dissenting opinion by Justice Ginsburg, I wonder if this decision should be cause for joy or grounds for concern.

The first thing we must do is to put this decision in perspective. The Court decided a case about court fees. The question before the Supreme Court was about the right that a prevailing party has to recover court fees from the losing party.  The Court had to decide the extent of this right and clarify if it covered translation fees or not. To decide this controversy, the Court looked at many legal arguments and also took into account the “…ordinary and technical meanings of interpreter…”   Yes, the majority concluded that interpreters “speak” and translators “write”, but is this what judicial interpreters and translators needed from the Court?  In my opinion, there are two crucial points that we must consider before we answer this question: (1) does the express exclusion of translation services from those that can be considered recoverable as court fees advance the interest of justice?   To say yes to this question, we need to consider that the interpretation services during a judicial process are more important than the translation of documents, statements, records, statutes, case law, etc.  This is a dangerous path.  As an interpreter, translator, and in this case, as an attorney, I cannot imagine a well-prepared attorney who has not reviewed the foreign language contract subject matter of the litigation, or a good extradition lawyer  who does not bother to read the foreign country statute because it is written in another language.  This would be a violation of the client’s constitutional rights and would constitute disciplinary grounds against the attorney.  (2) The second point to consider has to do with the following question: Will the Court’s decision have a chilling effect on private attorneys who will now pause and consider translation costs over translation quality? If the answer to the first point was, as it is in my case, that interpretation and translation services are of the same importance for a case, then the lawyers would have to “chance” the outcome of the case and retain a translator. However, “just in case” that the jury were to decide for the other party, attorneys may want to consider a less-expensive translator, even if the credentials or reputation are not as good as the ones of the translator they used to hire before the Taniguchi decision. This could harm the client, and it will definitely hurt the translators’ market.

On her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg did not question who “speaks” or who “writes”, she argued that “…many dictionaries’ definitions of “interpreter” included the translation of written documents…” She pointed out that several federal courts also used similar definitions, and that courts have awarded the costs of translating documents for decades. Justice Ginsburg emphasized the importance of parties’ access to translated documents, and that the line between translated and interpreted communications was not a clear one.  She read the briefs, listened to the oral arguments, checked the technical definitions, and then tackled the two points that I have inserted above. Her answer, and that of the two other dissenting  Justices: Breyer and Sotomayor, was that translating and interpreting services are both essential for the administration of justice, and for that reason alone, the risk of having to disburse a considerable sum of money to pay for  translation fees should not be part of the decision making process. The majority decided to exclude translation services exclusively because of their traditional strict interpretation of the constitution and the law. They did not consider anything else.

This is why, after reading all the materials, letting myself rejoice for a moment as an interpreter, and analyzing the full decision using my training and experience as an attorney, I think that the Alito decision will cause more harm and confusion than ever before.  I would like to hear your opinions as interpreters and translators.

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