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.

The Perils of the Pro-Se Witness

Court interpreters should prepare carefully for the pro se witness. A Pro Se witness is a litigant who chooses to go to trial without an attorney or legal representation. “Pro se” is a Latin term, meaning “on one’s own behalf” and a “litigant” is someone who is either suing someone or is being sued in court.Gorilla

The right to appear pro se in a civil case in federal court is contained in a statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1654. Thus, anyone can appear pro se, and anyone who appears before the Court without an attorney is considered pro se. Interpreters can find out if either party is pro se by looking at the case style or reviewing the court docket online. There won’t be a pro se party in the following cases:
A. When the litigant is a corporations or a partnership.
B. A pro se litigant may not represent a class in a class action.
C. A non-attorney parent may not appear pro se on behalf of a child, except to appeal the denial of the child’s social security benefits.

This post covers both scenarios, the pro se witness needing an interpreter, or if the witness for the opposing counsel needs a full trial interpretation. The interpreter should be prepared for many objections and rulings and interruptions to ongoing testimony. Tempers can flare and there will be a lot of people talking over each other. This interpreting setting is not a smooth question and answer process.

Pro se witnesses often don’t know the correct procedure for testifying in a courtroom or the trial procedures litigants have to follow. I also notice that most pro se witnesses are so focused on having their say that when they are told they have to follow certain steps, they get irritated. There can be disruptions with such normally quick and effortless procedures such as pre-trial motions and agreements and document filings. Just getting to the point when they are put under oath will take longer than you are used to.

The interpreter must be ready for objections and instructions by the judge during pro se testimony. Such litigants usually aren’t familiar with testimony limitations, such as hear say, mentioning insurance and references to evidence not admitted. Another pattern I see is the tendency to testify in the narrative. This is when they tell a story instead of following the standard question-answer format which allows opposing counsel to object to a question before it was answered.

The best advice for interpreters with a pro se litigant is to pack your patience. Be prepared by knowing the potential objections and the definitions which the judge will use to explain them. You will use note taking a lot to cover the talk overs, interruptions, long, rambling responses and compound questions. I recommend that you brief the pro se on the correct process of speaking through an interpreter. But hold fast to the limitation of your scope of work and do not ever provide advice on how to proceed or define terminology.

In my classes I always suggest observing a case with a pro se litigant before you interpret such a case. Justice of the Peace courts often have pro se litigants. Get permission to observe from the bailiff first and then sit back and be prepared to be amazed.

Handing the Witness Something He can’t Possibly Read

Mayan HirogliphicsA deposition in a contract dispute is going smoothly. A certified court interpreter is interpreting the questions asked by the attorneys and the responses given by the witness. The questioning attorney has a document marked as an exhibit and hands it to the witness, asking him to verify what it is. The witness looks puzzled. The contract, all 15 pages, is in English. The witness states that he cannot read English and he is unable to read the exhibit. The witness’s attorney sits silent and unaccommodating.  The solution to this potential confusion and delay is sitting right there at the table.

Professional court interpreters are able to read out loud documents that are written in English into the witness’s language. This is called sight translation and it is included in our scope of practice. We are trained to know and understand legal terms, specialized industrial, commercial and discovery material terminology and the correct translations for such terminology in the written form, just as we are trained in the spoken form. We read the document out loud at a smooth uninterrupted pace. Sight translation is part of the licensed court interpreter’s job. But we can’t offer to assist one side or the other during the questioning process, whether a trial or deposition; it is up to the attorneys to know to ask us to perform this function.

While on the record, state that you are requesting that the interpreter sight translate, to the witness, the marked document, specifying the passage or section. For example state “The third paragraph on page three. Or, “The second sentence of the first paragraph starting with “In the event of “and ending with “notify your supervisor”. This allows the section or document sight translated to be correctly indicated in the record.

When the section has been sight translated, the interpreter should state in English for the record, “The specified section has been sight translated to the witness.” The attorney can then ask the witness if they understood what was read to them or simply follow up with the question.

Most short passages from legal or standard commercial documents are easily sight translated. In a courtroom setting provide the interpreter with a copy of the document to be sight translated long enough before they take the stand so they can quickly review it for needed term translation.

If the text is specialized terminology, do yourself and the interpreter a favor and advise them of the subject matter prior to the deposition. At examinations under oath, when you introduce the document to be marked, show it to the interpreter to review in case they need to look up terminology.

I have sight translated Subpoena Duces Tecums, Requests for Production, notices, contracts, agreements, applications for employment, accident reports, warning labels, safety manuals, ship’s log books, product use instructions, prescription labels, letters, bank statements, ingredient lists for natural remedies and deposition transcripts. With the exception of poetry, any document that the rules allow to be handed to the witness being questioned can be accurately sight translated. This is just another way the language barrier is removed allowing due process to continue unrestrained.