You Made a Mistake. Time to Tour the Impact Zone.

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You can’t shake the uneasiness. Maybe while you were interpreting in a deposition, an attorney objected and then asked to have the question and your interpretation read back. Then nothing more was said about it. Maybe in the translation you just finished, there was one unfamiliar phrase repeated throughout, but you made the deadline and it is already in the hands of the client. The more you think about it, the more you feel that you made a mistake. You aren’t sure if anyone caught it since you haven’t received a complaint…yet. At this point, your conscience won’t leave you alone.

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That is a good thing. That means you care about your work product. Embrace your conscience with a big Thank You.  I will walk you through what goes on after you’ve left the stage. Because the more you know about the impact of your work- good or bad; the more you’ll know how to improve. Look for two upcoming posts: what you can do to resolve a mistake and what to do when the client wrongly claims you made a mistake.
When a mistake is discovered, here’s what happens on the client’s end.
If you were working for an agency, they will hear the complaint from their client. A professional agency should give you a chance to tell your side, so they will contact you and ask you about the job. Some will test your honesty by not mentioning the complaint, to see if you will reveal the mistake to them. Others will be honest and tell you exactly what the client said. This allows you to help the agency rectify the problem and thus help them keep their client. If they keep that client, you have a better chance to stay on with the agency but it is likely you won’t be sent on assignments for their specific client. If the agency has to resolve the problem on their own you could easily lose the agency as your client. Often the agency will need to discount or not charge their fee to keep the client so there is a financial burden to them.
Fact: The agency can replace you with another freelancer much easier than they can replace a paying client.

If you were working directly for a client, you may not hear about the complaint until after they themselves have decided what to do about it. If this mistake has affected their client’s case, the firm has to act quickly and follow the rules of civil or criminal procedure. If they have to tell their client what happened, then your name takes another hit. Hell hath no fury like an attorney in damage control mode.

Fact: Most interpreters don’t realize the repercussions of misinterpreted testimony.
Unless you have a long term, exclusive relationship with this client, chances are you won’t hear about the complaint at all. Lawyers don’t like adding the task of questioning you to their agendas. You will begin to notice they don’t schedule you anymore and then your overall work load drops off. It is usually because they simply mentioned the experience with you to another lawyer, which snowballs, tarnishing your reputation.
Mistakes are ethical and procedural slip-ups too. Judicial professionals hold us to the same standards they are held to. Being late and delaying a deposition costs both parties time and money. Missing a deadline on a translation can set back the client’s production schedule. A breach of confidentiality or privilege can result in a mistrial. This is why clients react so strongly to these mistakes.
Reasons for mistakes never outweigh the repercussions. This awareness will give you the additional instinct to avoid them.

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