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.
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 closest a freelancer comes to dictating a full schedule of assignments is the cattle calls some agencies make to get an assignment filled. This is when they send out a mass email inquiring about availability which they admit is based on the first to respond will be the first to consider. The pivotal word in these inquiries is consider. The client (usually an agency) will take into consideration your rate and the reputation of your performance with that agency. Once your rates and terms are favored, inevitably what occurs next is if you are personally favored by the scheduler. Granted the more professional the agency, the less this behavior takes place. But in the high pressure job that schedulers face every day; the freelancer who is low maintenance and reliable is recalled fondly.
Learn the professional tone of how your client does business and work with them in that same tone or better. This rule is applied across the full range of clients from a single individual who contracts you to a small law firm or a multinational firm through a court system or agency. In each situation your performance and behavior decides how they judge you. Are they so busy that your repeated questions would bother them? Do you need to have them send back your invoices to be corrected? Do you expect them to research your assignments for additional information you need? These are common complaints among schedulers.
How much power does the attorney or judge have in deciding who is assigned to interpret? That depends on the feedback given to the attorney by his or her secretary. If the court is hiring you directly the judge can tell his or her court clerk who to use or not to use. Agencies do get some feedback but mostly, only when it is bad. The agency is most likely going to act on bad feedback if the relationship with the client is on the line. The more professional agencies take into consideration the context of the complaint about the freelancer and interview both parties before acting. If an agency passes on a complaint about you and is going to limit your assignments, be honest if you were improper or unprofessional. If you weren’t, ask to have it investigated with the client telling them that you want to rectify the situation. If it is not proven to be poor interpreting performance, the agency can easily avoid assigning you with that attorney or Judge and everyone is happy.
Don’t set your fees and terms of payment without finding out what the market charges and requires. The vast majority of law firms, court administrators, Court Reporting firms are familiar with the standard range of fees and terms. Some courts have set fees, otherwise you tell them your rates and terms. They also know the value of experience in legal settings, certifications and training because that means you are reliable and self-sufficient. T&I agencies for the most part, set limits on what they will pay you. The good ones follow what is considered fair rates.
If you ignore the market fees and terms, you run the risk of charging too much and making unreasonable demands for your work. Or if you charge too little and are too flexible in your terms you open yourself to the disrespect of not being paid on time or worse, not at all. Learn the standard behavior and terms of your market. Your market is defined by your geographic location, your language pair and those who share the same credentials, experience, training and reputation that you have. As in any profession, if you are just starting out you can’t expect to charge the same as someone who has a long list of tests passed, training and ten, twenty or thirty years of experience. But you can prove yourself as reliable, competent and fair. We all started at a lower rate, paid our dues and rose in rank. That is the path of a freelancer.