Questions that Sink and Questions that Float

Big JoyYour question is hanging in midair and the witness, in the sworn proceeding is looking at you, gape mouthed. Was the question clear?  Or maybe the witness is deciding what part of it to answer. You could be facing  a cycle of delays and frustration. This occurs whether the proceeding is interpreted or not. But it does seem that as the interpreter, I can see the disconnect happen before the questioning attorney catches on.

The fault lies in the broad wording of the question that allows for a flexibility in responsiveness. Add a nervous, reluctant, or even impatient witness and you have Q&A chaos. I’ve even got a name for it: the “Who’s On First” scenario after the famous Abbott and Costello comedy sketch.

It’s no fun for any of us to go down that bumpy road. Sometimes the lawyers get irritated at each other as the objection, “Non Responsive” triggers the objection: “Asked and Answered” over and over. Other times I’ve seen the questioning attorney instruct that the question be certified because the opposing counsel will  refuse to allow the question to be repeated after several attempts. Fact witnesses and Pro Se witnesses, who are unfamiliar with the questioning process, can quickly stymie whatever progress has been made when the “Who’s On First” routine starts up.

In such cases that there is an interpreter, professional interpreters know to simply be patient, show no reaction and continue interpreting accurately and completely. These situations are not a challenge to an interpreter.

In 1999, Claims Magazine, the national publication of the Insurance industry, published my article titled, What do You Mean by That? Specific Terms in a Q&A Produce Direct Responses. You can find the article on my website here http://www.linguisticworld.com/books_and_articles.html.  At the date of this blog post it is a full 17 years later and I still see many of these examples of questions that sink.

The most common culprit is the compound question. This is a question that contains two or more questions being asked. Often it offers alternative responses much like a multiple choice question. This kind of question is standard for casual conversation but in a Q&A setting, where the person is under oath, a single yes or no to such a question encompasses more factors. Another form is when the subject action is maintained but extra dates, times and persons are added to the single event.

Unfortunately, even a seemingly simple question can be compound.  The Yes or No to “Do you know if the light was red for the other driver?” could be responsive to the light being red or not, or it could be responsive to the witness knowing or not. Several clients of mine offer a follow up question to that one with a “No, you don’t know or no, the light wasn’t red?” And surprisingly, the response is the complete answer that contains the question.

The solution is to break down the question as soon as you see the witness is not able to transition to compound questions smoothly. Limit high register legalese terminology that will trigger confusion. The result will be more concise responses and a well-connected communication.

How Distance Protects You : The Witness Outburst

Legal interpreters are taught to keep an emotional distance with the witness to guarantee the witness complete access to the  judicial process, as if they spoke fluent English. It also benefits the interpreter  to have a sole focus on the linguistic components of the statement  while monitoring the content.  Certified interpreters are  bound  by our Code of Professional Responsibility to not show any emotion or bias  in reaction to the statements we are interpreting. In order to do this we have to remain oblivious to the base problem  between the parties.distance-can-protect-you380w

Sometimes maintaining  distance can protect us too. By virtue of being a party to a lawsuit,  some witnesses are facing a very difficult phase of their lives. No matter if they are the plaintiff or the defendant.  The setting exposes the interpreter to a witness whose perception of the difficulty  can range anywhere from an inconvenience to a  life changing crisis.

For example, in a civil matter where a business agreement was not honored, the party will suffer compromise of the investment of time and money.  A personal injury affects one party’s physical and emotional life yet may affect the financial life of the other. Family law and criminal cases easily display a strain on either party and often it is on both parties.

The interpreter can’t predict aggressive questioning or  know how a witness will react to a probing Q&A process.  Establishing the distance at the start of the proceeding is  a good safeguard. In my introductory spiel I include that I have nothing to do with the case and that my work is regulated by state law.  Not making eye contact reinforces the distance. Most outbursts in a courtroom are quickly diffused by the Judge. But that is not the case in other discovery proceedings.

I’ve had a 6’7 Stevedore pick me up by my shoulders and yell in my face, angry at the pointed question I very accurately interpreted. I’ve had several witnesses dissolve into tears in my lap when reminded of the loss of a loved one. I’ve seen witnesses curse and yell  at everyone in the room. I’ve seen a witness knock over the videographer’s camera. One angry witness hit the court reporter’s steno machine to stop writing what he said. The most memorable was a divorce mediation and the wife announced she was a witch, whereupon she went around the table putting a curse on everyone. When she got around to me, I reminded her I would have to interpret the curse and it would fall back on her.  I was spared.

Interpreters need to understand the lawyer’s obligations to their client. Lawyers are trained to evaluate their client’s personality so they can best represent them. Lawyers can assess their client’s responsiveness patterns during deposition and trial preparation.  But we interpreters need to  be prepared for outbursts  from the start of our career. We also need to be comfortable knowing that in such an eruption that we can and should reference the event as an impediment to our performance. We can ask for a break. And we can address the issue with the attorney. We can protect ourselves and our good work.

Interpreting in the Middle of A Missile Attack

missile-attack

A missile attack  is disorder, loud disruption and chaos. Depositions and even court trials can take on that air before being  brought under control. For the interpreter and the court reporter it is  very difficult to perform our work under those conditions. And mistakes are understandable.  For the interpreter, these are impediments to your performance that you cannot overcome. But you can do damage control as soon as the disruption begins.

Certified (“Licensed” in Texas) court interpreters are bound to a Code of Professional Responsibility that includes an instruction to report any impediments to our performance.

(i) CANON 7: ASSESSING AND REPORTING IMPEDIMENTS TO PERFORMANCE. Interpreters shall assess at all times their ability to deliver their services. When interpreters have any reservation about their ability to satisfy an assignment competently, they shall immediately convey that reservation to the judge.

I have been interrupted while interpreting by jackhammers breaking up a parking lot next door, that was so loud I could not  hear the witness. Also I’ve experienced the witness yelling at the attorney while the attorney continued asking the question and while the other attorney was yelling at his witness and the court reporter was yelling at all of them to stop talking over each other.  I recall several more incidents when the witness has erupted over an aggressive question, behaving physically or starting a screaming rant.  In those situations you could easily misinterpret so you have to retain control of your actions including possibly to stop interpreting.

Once everyone calms down the interpreter has  to report , on the record, to the attorneys or to the judge the point in the testimony at which you were no longer able to interpret and specify the cause: the specific impediment. Then they decide how to rectify the miscommunication.

More often than not the witness goes silent and I find I am interpreting the attorneys argument and I indicate by gesture the respective attorney while they talk over each other.  The court reporter is often the one who stops the  disruption at a deposition, at trial it is the Judge.

Sometimes the location itself is a minefield of impediments.  I’ve interpreted in industrial facilities with loud machinery operating around me. I’ve interpreted  statements on the deck of container ships in the middle of the Houston Ship Channel.  Colleagues report interpreting assignments where they are at the back of a City Council room filled with protesters.

Attorneys, investigators and insurance adjusters have to go where they can find the answers to the questions in order to best represent their client.  If that means talking to a Limited English speaker at their workplace or wherever they can be found then that’s where you will go.

A professional interpreter understands this but also knows to  assess the location for impediments at the moment of the assignment. Ask where it is  specfically and look up the address.  If it is a questionable location, express your concerns to the person you will be interpreting for and ask for a change of venue. Tell them that you will have to stop the proceeding if you are not able to interpret accurately. Then don’t be afraid to turn down the assignment.

Know the difference between milder forms of chaos that you can overcome and still perform your job according to your oath and impediments that  will not allow you to interpret accurately.

And Now for the Musical Portion of my Closing Argument.

As  court interpreters, we have to be ready for all kinds of terminology. Speaking styles too. A register that rises to the level of Shakespearean sonnets , or drops to a Mafioso style threat.  We have to render it duplicating the tone, style and meaning. So, we study and prepare. I enjoy sitting in on trials and study how the lawyers speak especially during opening and closing.singer-on-stage

But none of that prepared me for the lawyer who sang during his closing argument.

I was interpreting the trial for the defendant. It was a car accident and my client was the insurance company. It was all so standard that I don’t remember the details or most of the testimony.  The opposing counsel was well prepared and consistently …normal sounding during litigation. Nothing stood out during  voir dire or cross or even  the deliberations over the charge to the jury. A bit of drama during that would have tipped me off.

I wasn’t even distracted by the Plaintiff’s father who wore in a full Marine dress uniform throughout the trial. He sat behind his daughter, a high school senior.

I was interpreting the full trial for the defendant, a middle aged man from Honduras. He was calm, polite and…normal.

I remember being aware that since we were at closing arguments, all that was left, time wise, was jury deliberations and then I’d be released.  Frankly I was probably thinking about dinner plans.

For closing, both lawyers restated the high points of the case that reflected well on their client. And the lawyer for the plaintiff, as usual, proceeded to follow the defense with a second closing.  In this one he reminded the jury of the testimony presented showing how his client was very close to her father and that her father had been very worried  about her ever since  this accident.  And that her father was an honorable member of the military.

The lawyer stopped right in front of the jury, looked right into their eyes and asked them,

“Who today isn’t aware of the contributions of the military to our country?  It just makes me think of the song,  Some Gave All by Billie Ray Cyrus

Then in a pretty nice baritone voice he sang these words:

“All gave some and some gave all / And some stood through for the red, white and blue / And some had to fall / And if you ever think of me / Think of all your liberties / And recall, some gave all.”

He caught me off guard for a second.  I may have shown surprise on my face. But I got right to work interpreting ….not singing…. the lyrics. I avoided eye contact with the defendant and I focused on the wood grain of the table while interpreting simultaneously. But out of the corner of my eye I caught my client’s jaw drop.  There was no reaction from the Judge and the jury didn’t applaud.

I have been surprised by literary testimony that included poetry and recitations from religious texts. I guess I can add interpretation of live singing to my own repertoire, so to speak.

I’m just glad he didn’t choose Achy Breaky Heart.

(Some Gave All. (C) 1993 Mercury Records, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc)

Keeping Up With the Warp Speed Witness

12512317_1666237360285094_2805551571254001401_nListening to anyone speaking fast in a sworn proceeding is more of an event of animated questioning for most participants at the trial or deposition.

Unless you are the interpreter or the court reporter.

Court interpreters are sworn to transmit the question and the response word for word, accurately and completely. So we develop listening, note taking and responsiveness analysis skills. Here are a few tips on identifying and rendering the complete and identical sounding statement of the warp speed speaker in compliance with  your oath.

The attorney and the witness have a higher probability to speak super quickly during a Q&A process. In trial, Judges pick up speed while reading out loud the  written instructions or the charge to the jury. Almost everyone speaks faster than normal when reading written evidence into the record.

TIP: Ask for a copy of the document to sight translate simultaneously, in trial if there is no screen displaying the document or during a deposition .

The attorney will respond quickly to  evidence mentioned by a witness that is uniquely  positive or negative impact on their case. If positive, they will want the witness to stay on that topic so they will quickly add related questions. If negative,  they will want the witness to go no further on that topic and they will change the topic altogether.  In both situations they will accentuate the words in tone and volume that pertain to their chosen emphasized topic.

TIP: In your taking, jot down the accentuated words, since they will possibly be repeated by the questioning attorney for whom that is a valuable topic. And if one side wants the subject matter changed, the opposing counsel may zero in on that subject during cross.

Witnesses launch into hurried responses when triggered by something they feel strongly about. Their attorney may want that emotion displayed for the jury or on the deposition record, so we interpreters need to perfect our skills as much as possible before resorting to asking for intervention from the judge (or the questioning attorney (deposition).

Some triggers are obvious in the pointed, aggressive wording of the question, others are unknown to the interpreter.

TIP:  We ignore the impact of the  question or the response and focus on the content.

An animated emotional response has  peaks of loudness, words that are run together, repeated points and sometimes stammering if  the witness is flustered. We are supposed to render the same tone and style of the speaker in our interpretation.

TIP: Take notes while the witness responds to allow the witness to respond completely without interruption. Speed up your note taking with symbols and abbreviations.

TIP: Circle the loud words or phrases. ( I reserve underlining for topics frequently repeated in a question.)

TIP: Separate the words that were run together when spoken or you won’t be able to read your own notes. But encapsulate from end to end them with an underlining arrow or brackets to remind you to render them in a run together fashion.

TIP: Number the repeated points and the words that are stammered so that you repeat them just as many times as they were originally spoken. For example   He turned left⁴

Have an evacuation plan. Know your limits by shadowing with a recorded lecture or television audio. Be prepared to notify the Judge, on the record and  in the third person, that the witness is speaking too fast and is impeding your ability to render an accurate interpretation. Normally the Judge will advise the witness to slow down. Frankly, this instruction rarely sticks. If necessary, tell the Judge  that you respectfully request that the witness be asked to break up their response into 3 or four sentences at a time.

TIP : Remember if you or the attorney interrupts the witness, that you have to interpret every word spoken  for the record, even if it is an incomplete sentence.

 

I Tip My Hat To: helping freelance interpreters get paid.

a-tip-pf-the-hat-toI Tip My Hat To…

The Association of Independent Judicial Interpreters of California (AIJIC) http://aijic.org/

 

For their dedicated support helping a freelance interpreter collect the pay she earned and was duly owed.

This was posted originally on a private Facebook page for certified interpreters. I was so impressed with the news that I asked for and was granted  permission to reprint it by the poster.

As an AIJIC board member, I thought this was a Small Claims story worth sharing. It all started with a $200 unpaid invoice owed to one of our members by an agency with a very bad reputation.

Early this year, AIJIC sent a demand letter to the owner of the agency on behalf of our colleague with a deadline to pay. The agency owner (whom I’ll call Ms. Deadbeat) ignored the demand letter, after which AIJIC assisted our member with suing in Small Claims.

In her claim, our member demanded the original amount owed plus an additional half day of lost work due to the appearance in court. Since Ms. Deadbeat didn’t appear in court for the trial date, a default judgment was entered in favor of our member. She was awarded $470, which included court and process server costs.

After waiting the mandatory 30 days to see if Ms. Deadbeat would appeal the ruling (she didn’t) the next step was to collect the judgment. California law allows creditors with a court judgment to place a levy on the debtor’s bank account through the Sheriff’s office, which is what we assisted our member with. After months of wait, she finally received a check for the amount she was owed, plus the sheriff’s fee for the bank levy for a total of $516.86.

Although there are no guaranteed results when a person goes to court, it often pays off if you’re willing to persist. Letting delinquent agencies repeatedly burn interpreters with no consequences only encourages them to keep doing it.

It’s important to send a message that we’re professionals and that we expect to be treated as such.

This advocacy of the freelance interpreter by an organization is truly needed today and is to be commended.  They are tackling the decades old disrespect shown by unprofessional members of our market to freelance interpreters who work so hard to perform professionally. I really wish we had such an organization in Texas. Here are just a few services they provide:

AIJIC Mission Statement

The Association of Independent Judicial Interpreters of California (AIJIC) is a nonprofit trade association started by a group of certified court interpreters who saw the need to take action in order to protect the legal interpreting profession in the private sector, which has been steadily deteriorating in recent years.

  • Educate the legal community and agencies about the current laws governing court interpreters, which require certified court interpreters to be used for civil, criminal or juvenile proceedings, including depositions for civil cases.
  • Encourage other interpreters to report use of non-certified interpreters hired for court proceedings and explore a way to take action by lobbying for the enforcement of Sections 68560.5 and 68561 of the Government Code.
  • Educate new interpreters about matters related to the profession.
  • Share information among ourselves about agencies.
  • Representing the interests of independent court interpreters before the Judicial Council of California and in Sacramento in order to have a voice in matters that directly affect our profession
  • Eventually exploring the possibility of establishing a licensing procedure as an essential step towards self-regulation for court interpreters.
  • Helping our members with collection issues.

Join me in commending their work. Contact the AIJIC and tip your hat to them.

 

Freedom of Speech Versus Speaking Freely in America

first-amendmentIn today’s heated political climate in the U.S., arguments spread faster than mosquitos after a week of rain. I get a kick out of hearing someone tossing a sharply worded opinion, and then diving behind the defensive shield follow up       “ I have the right to Freedom of Speech”.  I had a nagging feeling it wasn’t so all inclusive and since my ancestors fought in that Revolution, I did some research.  Hopefully you, as an American, claim this right knowing it was granted in the first amendment to our constitution in 1789. The driving force was freedom of political dissent. Today in America there cannot be a law that limits your freedom of speech.  Here is the wording of the first amendment- one sentence of 45 words:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The author James Madison, meant it to be simple and basic so it would pass the vote. But, I feel, over 227 years later we really need to take responsibility for our words.  And to prove that, look at how lawsuits helped form new terms classifying exercising freedom of speech.

Fighting Words

Words which would likely make the person whom they are addressed commit an act of violence.  Fighting words are a category of speech that is unprotected by the First Amendment.  Chaplinsky v New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).

Defamation

A statement that injures a third party’s reputation. The tort of defamation includes both libel (written statements) and slander (spoken statements).

If you want to sue someone who you feel has defamed you to win a defamation case, a plaintiff must show four things: 1) a false statement purporting to be fact; 2) publication or communication of that statement to a third person; 3) fault amounting to at least negligence; and 4) damages, or some harm caused to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement.

Unless that person has Absolute Privilege

If a statement is made in certain contexts or in certain venues, the First Amendment may give the speaker an absolute defense to a charge of defamation.  This privilege usually only exists in the government context; for example, sworn testimony in a judicial or legislative hearing is privileged.

Libel

Libel is a method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures, signs, effigies, or any communication embodied in physical form that is injurious to a person’s reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession.

Slander

A false statement, usually made orally, which defames another person. Unlike libel, damages from slander are not presumed and must be proven by the party suing. See, e.g. TXO Production Corp. v. Alliance Resources, 509 U.S. 443 (1993).

So how about making it clear that you are speaking freely? There is a standard for that too. You are supposed to ask permission.

The history is during Operation Torch (invasion of North Africa in 1942) which took place under US command, British service personnel didn’t know how to address their American counterparts. Being British and polite, they said ‘Permission to speak freely sir.’

The only time I see that happen is working as a court interpreter when the witness, already on the stand,  will ask the Judge for permission to speak freely. Their attorney immediately turns pale with eyes as wide as a deer in headlights. I guess no one told them about Absolute Privilege.

Are you ready for the reputation  you’ll have as a “Free spoken” person?  Defined as  “ Given to speaking freely without reserve, frank and outspoken”, the term was first used in  1625.

That was a full one hundred and sixty four years before there was a right to do so. I wonder how they would define it today.

Hey, we cancelled you. Why are you invoicing us?

It is Tuesday, the day after the Labor Day. I just learned that the deposition interpreting assignment I am about to leave for was cancelled yesterday.  Confirmed with the Court Reporting firm on Friday, I had to turn down two other jobs after booking this one.  The scheduler‘s message closed with “Please call as soon as you get this message”.  Well, at the moment they called, I was in thigh high waders slogging through protected wetlands, photographing an elusive Ibis.  I was not working.  My voicemail recording noted the holiday, that I would return calls on the next business day.  All of this was in my Rates and Terms Sheet they had accepted when they assigned me.  I returned the call, mentioning I would have to invoice due to less than 24 hour business day cancellation.  The scheduler responded “But, I emailed you on Sunday”.  No, you emailed Monday and either way, Saturday, Sunday and holidays are not business days.  I was more disappointed in her reaction than in the cancellation.

We freelance professional court interpreters have standard terms that cover cancellations.  I present them in writing and ask that they be acknowledged and accepted in writing before I accept an assignment. The danceScan

Sometimes they are dismissed as unnecessary.  When I invoice, I’m sometimes told it’s unfair.

Here’s why cancellation charges are reasonable and necessary:

  • I give you the chance to opt out from scheduling me when you are asked to review and accept my terms.  Equally, if your terms are unacceptable to me, I can opt to not accept assignments from you.
  • You can tell the law firm client about my terms and they can opt to try to find someone with different terms. When I accept your assignment it is a priority on my schedule.
  • I turn down other clients to take your job.
  • I cannot replace that income in less than 24 business days.
  • If I allow everybody to cancel without consequence, I could go for weeks without an income.
  • Emergency legal setting cancellations happen and can be accommodated but so do non-emergency cancellations caused by scheduling errors and uninformed witnesses.  Forgetting to notify us happens a lot.

Here’s the solution:

A professional interpreter will schedule in a professional manner.  You can count on us, you can know what costs are involved, and you can relax knowing we will be on time, respectful to your client and interpret with complete accuracy in accordance with our oath.  This is how we show our respect working in a respectful environment.

Make the time to ask for our terms or offer yours. Include your expectation of 24/7 accessibility.  Whether or not you are able financially to negotiate, be honest with us.  We share our experiences with agencies in professional networks.  Don’t be left stuck with only interpreters who will let you down.

Beyond The Job. Discovering then Rewarding the Preservation of Workplace Treasures.

I remember the first time my eyes locked with his. It was in his courtroom the 11th District Civil Court of Harris County, Texas. I stood before him at the bench, with my right hand raised while he gave me the Court Interpreter’s Oath. This is how our professions were first intertwined, both pivoting on the same respect and dedication to the U.S. Judiciary. 

Many people don’t realize that every U.S. court maintains original documents and  records from all cases and business filed with the court – back to the date the court was founded. This translates into hundreds of years of evidence in the form of testimony, maps, affidavits, personal identifications, tintype photographs,  earliest of business records that date back to the 1700s. Try and picture a land grant request  ( in Spanish) by Stephen F. Austin before Texas’s independence from Mexico,  petitions by slaves suing for their freedom and winning (the plaintiff signed with an X ) all the way to  the present generation when John Lennon’s doodles made  while attending Yoko Ono’s child custody case were included in the records of that trial.  Since evidence then, as now, is admitted after inspection for veracity, you have history being told of every aspect of life, from personal, to commercial to national events.

But  if not preserved, all of that will be shredded or disintegrate.Gloved hand

 The time constraints on a Judge are extensive.  Judge Mark Davidson has had an outstanding judicial career, serving as judge of the 11th District Court for twenty years  before his retirement in 2009 and on into his appointment as Judge of the MDL court for the Asbestos litigation.  But in the 1990s when Judge Davidson sought out a century-old court document and was handed an envelope filled with yellow colored confetti , the result of the ancient document  never having been preserved, he made the time to take action. Judge Davidson, William Kroger, a partner in Baker Botts law firm, and Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson  headed the effort to preserve documents within Harris County leading up to the creation of the Harris County District Clerk’s Historic Documents Room, which opened to the public in 2006. The room holds documents from the late 1700s-1951, and is used today by  authors, filmmakers historians, judges, lawyers and the public  research.  Seeing the result of this project, the Texas Supreme Court mandated that the Historical Document Reading Room and the Historical Document Preservation Project were the model for all state courts across Texas should follow. A spring 2009 meeting with Justice Jefferson, Judge Davidson and Galveston County Clerk Latonia Wilson led to the creation of the Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force by the Texas Supreme Court. Then Judge Davidson worked with State Representative Sarah Davis to create HB 1559 and carry it to passage in 2011. The bill provided that court records, stored in courthouses across Texas, would receive temporary protection from destruction. So in his spare time, he identified the risk of the destruction of history, developed a solution and acted on it.

In 2013, I was named Chair of the Historical Preservation Committee of my chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and that’s how I learned about  the existence of the Historic Document Room in our Harris County Courthouse and that the court greatly needed help to protect them.    

After meeting with Judge Davidson, I assembled a team of DAR members, all experienced preservationists, genealogists and history lovers to volunteer in the room all day twice a month to build a searchable database of every case filed since the early 1800s. We also transcribe the documents hand written ( with quill pen!), we raise funds for the preservation process and we give private tours of the room. I am now invited to speak to groups on the rich history we find and how they can help with this project.  My skills as an interpreter benefit because I also learn terminology and can analyze  the similarities of testimony given over 150 years ago. For the last three years I have been blissfully volunteering in Judge Davidson’s shadow.

Judge Davidson,medalFast forward from the day he gave me the Interpreter’s Oath to March 2016 and the photograph you see. Judge Mark Davidson is being awarded the National Medal for Historic Preservation before a packed room of dignitaries including his colleagues named above and yours truly.  I proudly nominated him because he obviously earned it.  But I was also personally motivated because he showed me how to make time for a good cause while maintaining respect and dedication to our profession.

Look for more posts on my discoveries among these treasures.

For information on the Historical Document Room at the courthouse please go to  http://www.hcdistrictclerk.com/Common/Default.aspx and click on Historical Documents.

 

Either Way, It’s The Same Horns. My Take Away from a Lawyer’s Rant.

Longhorn reciprocal scan0001Knowing what your client needs and expects from you is a baseline for providing a great product or service. But when you go a step further and learn the inner workings of your client’s work experience, you will be able to use that insight to resolve some tough problems and your own company will benefit.

My market is the judicial field. Non-paying or slow paying clients is the most common complaint I hear from colleagues, both freelance court interpreters and Translation and Interpreting agencies alike. I’m not immune to this experience. I have perfected rates and terms that meet and surpass the high standards set by the judiciary and lawyers. I deliver them whenever someone enquires about my services or availability and I politely require acceptance in writing before I accept an assignment. But as much as I study my client’s industry and keep up with their regulations and legislation, I haven’t found the magic tactic to guarantee on time payment.

Then I read the post by a lawyer who was really angry at clients who don’t pay him. http://lawfirmsuites.com/2013/10/shop-talk-deadbeat-clients/

He had me at the title of the post Clients Who Don’t Pay Piss Me Off. Notwithstanding the irony of the source of the complaint, after reading that post, I can honestly say I felt his pain.

I have heard a lot about the business of law and I have paid attention. I listen to shop talk by clients who are personal friends and I ask questions. I grew up in a family of lawyers that includes two Supreme Court Justices. In my continuing education classes, I teach interpreters to pay attention to the business of law. But the raw resentment expressed in this man’s post is exactly how I feel when I have to enter into the ugly phase of collecting a fairly earned fee. The fact that collecting from law firms is a regular component of doing business for me and my colleagues makes this lawyer’s perspective all that more valuable.

Every situation that he describes in his post has happened to me. I have endured clients not paying, delaying payment and not responding to late notices or phone calls, and even clients asking you to cut the already agreed upon rate after the assignment is completed, His sense of betrayal and having been disrespected is all too familiar. It is disrespectful to not be paid your hard earned fees.

When I read his advice to lawyers: You shouldn’t do business with clients who do not respect the value of your services, I wondered if he had read my articles or attended one of my classes.

My take away from that post was that I can now apply a layer of empathy to my terms policy. I can approach clients from a more shared experience. We are both giving our best services to the client. We are held to an oath and regulations most professionals wouldn’t tolerate. And we both truly respect the judicial system that we serve.

But the most significant take away I got from that post is knowing I can say to my client, ”I understand”.