Skip These Seven Hassles for a Serenely Successful 2017

 

 

devils-bridge-in-kromlau-germany_n 

  1. Skip the stressful “offer “ of  insulting rates and oppressive terms .

Introduce yourself with you rates and  terms backed up with your certification and training. If being offered an assignment , ask for acknowledgement and acceptance in writing of your rates and terms  Add a dose of manners by offering to answer any questions they may have.

 Stress Buster : Develop a couple of templates of polite  responses for  when unacceptably low     rates are offered. Save them in your drafts and you will avoid the irritation felt when  writing a new one every time.

   2  Skip the embarrassment of being taken advantage of.

Research the market and  match your experience and qualifications for equal ranking of pay.

  1. Skip the stress of hearing that the prospective client that wants you won’t pay what you’re worth.

Look up their website and see how they promote themselves to the market If they claim to have the lowest rates then how do you think they make a profit.

Inquire from colleagues on professional forums, on both Linked In and Face Book , what kind of an experience  anyone has had with said a client. Share your experience in return.

  1. Skip the stress of a job with terminology and procedures that stump you.

Don’t accept an assignment you have never done before until you have observed the interpreted proceeding in person or reviewed a few source and target translations of the same subject matter. Do this until you are comfortable that you can perform quality work.

  1. Skip the stress of hassles caused by a client uneducated in your work.

Look for the red flags waving: when translator and interpreter is used interchangeably, when your availability is asked without  identification of the proceeding, whenever a translation has no word count or deadline…  And my favorite when you are asked to be at a location over 100 miles away in a half an hour.  Decide the value of your time required in “babysitting” this kind of client.

  1. Skip the embarrassment of being labeled as unqualified and unprofessional.

Research the market and  match your experience and qualifications for equal ranking of pay.

  1. Skip the stress of payment disputes.

Send your rates and terms ( learn what these are) in writing and ask for acknowledgement and acceptance in writing.  Add a dose of manners by offering to answer any questions they may have.

Inquire from colleagues on professional forums, on both Linked In and Face Book , what kind of an experience  anyone has had with said a client. Share your experience in return.

Assess the client agency by their reputation among their employees and contractors. Listen and weigh both the accolades and the complaints. Complaints reflect poor management and instability and that leads to non-payment of freelancer’s invoices .

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.

 

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.

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”.

The Waterfall Witness

Despite all the terminology compiled and studied before a proceeding, the way a witness responds to a question can hold the most surprises for the legal interpreter.  So we have to change our listening and processing mode for each different style of responsiveness. We base our performance on canons of professional responsibility for completeness, not paraphrasing and not omitting what is said. But if we don’t catch every word spoken, we run the risk of failing our oath.

Witnesses respond according to their reaction to the question and to the way the subject matter is emphasized. Sometimes they are intimidated by the process. Sometimes they show anger while facing the representative of those they hold responsible for damages or those who sued them. It is an entirely personal behavior no matter how much preparation they were given by their lawyer.

The easiest back and forth to interpret is the orderly question followed by the short response with no heightened emotion by either party. The other extreme is the witness who either launches into or builds up to a rapid free flow of extensive narrative, without a pause whatsoever. I call this the Waterfall Witness. Waterfall

The interpreter needs to develop three skills to master the rendering of waterfall testimony.
1. Prediction. Observe the witness long enough to catch any emotion beyond complacence. Note the length of the responses to the personal history questions. If they are beyond the scope of the question, you have warning of a pattern there. If the witness dissects the question in the answer, that can erupt in long winded hostility. Grief lends itself to listing memories. Anger becomes confrontation and repetitive phrasing of the stated issues.
2. Pace duplication. As linguists we are listening in order to render. You will have to erase any reaction to the content of the testimony in order to retain it. The best way is to keep pace with the speaker. Duplicate the tempo of the speaker with either your notetaking or your simultaneous interpreting.
3. Keep track of the topic. The waterfall witness will add topics and stray off topic. Your notetaking should highlight the new topic and the key word they use. I have even drawn a hierarchical map with arrows charting the response from topic to topic.

I have found that in a deposition the attorneys rarely interrupt a waterfall witness simply because they want to hear everything this witness may possibly have to say about the issue. If they do it is through an objection. But in trials, attorneys will interrupt via objections and the Judge will interrupt with an instruction. So the interpreter also has to monitor the point when the judge interrupted during the witness’s testimony for the court reporter to hear that clearly. Then the full instruction to the witness has to be interpreted along with their response. Even then, you cannot rest because the objecting attorney may reply with a “Thank you, your honor”.

The interpreting mode can be an issue. Trying to take fully accurate notes of a 300 word missive at the pace of emotional discourse is risky. I expand my note taking to include topic with key words and identify the order in the response. I go through a lot of paper. It is easier to go into simultaneous mode which can be done in a deposition. But  in court it  is hard for the jury, the court reporter and the judge to hear you not to mention the attorney further back in the courtroom. If you are allowed to use simultaneous, I suggest getting permission from the Judge to step forward closer to the court reporter and then speaking louder.

All told, taking on a waterfall witness is not for the novice interpreter. So practice a lot and go watch one in court. Remember, witnesses have the right to testify in the form that is natural to them. So, it is up to us to raise our skill level to meet this challenge.

When to Buy into a Client’s Complaint.

The longer you freelance in this business, if you make the effort to keep getting training, you can count on five things to happen.
1. Your performance will get better and better.
2. What was once difficult will be easy.
3. Your confidence will get more and more solid.
4. You will enjoy the work every time.
5. You will also face a client’s complaint about your work that will take you right back to how nervous you felt when you were just starting out.
UnhappyrockScanSo when faced with a complaint about your work, when do you stand up for yourself and when do you just move on? The answer is when you know, without question, which of the following is true:
1. You did not make any mistakes or
2. The client is right and you made an error in your performance.

The only way to know is if you are distinctly aware of your performance by practicing constant and honest self-assessment.   Interpreters need to listen to what they themselves are saying and rely on the instant recall of the last interchange. Most professional interpreters have retention of the prior several seconds. All interpreters should truthfully acknowledge a check list of their own weaknesses, which most clients object to, including heavy accents, pronunciation and grammar mistakes and being late. Translators need to practice good time management and make mental notes of their word choices and the options they can choose from. We also need to invest in a good proofreader since fresh eyes can make or break your reputation. We also have to know the regulations and expectations of competitive professional interpreting or translation. That is the only way we can know if we made a mistake and were to blame or not.

I’ve learned that most interpreters and translators usually know when there was a grey area in their work product. We also know when our performance is at risk because of the environment or setting we are working in. An example would be when the interpreter faced with screaming attorneys and witnesses all talking over each other. The freelance translator can be uneasy when given a barely legible copy or a deadline that is moved up from the original one. But we do have the right to tell the client of the risk to our performance and ask that it be remedied. And we, as freelancers have the right to turn down any job.

But there is still the probability that the client is wrong in their accusation. My profession has an inexcusably low percentage of end user knowledge of the fundamentals skills required to be an interpreter and /or translator as well as our process and regulations. The biggest culprit is the client who feels they are more fluent than a licensed trained and qualified translator or interpreter.

Honest self-assessment can lead to fewer mistakes in your control. It happens to all of us. Every now and then a mistake slips into our normally impeccable work product. I have three more posts about this. One tells what happens when the client discovers a mistake, how to resolve it when you did make a mistake and how to handle the client wrongly claiming you made a mistake when you didn’t.

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.