Working with Legal Interpreters: 6 Things Every Lawyer Needs to Know

legal interpreterLegal interpreters are crucial within the legal field. They work with lawyers in helping them communicate with clients as well as represent parties in court, tribunals and the like. Without interpreters, one could argue, there would be no justice whenever a language barrier exists.

Working with interpreters, to get the best out of their expertise, is something every lawyer should know, no matter their status or position.

This guide offer 6 points every lawyer needs to know about legal interpreters.

1.  Set ground rules
Legal interpreters work in a highly pressurized environment; so planning is key to effective communication. Before you begin working with an interpreter, it is useful to agree some ground rules. For example, you may want to agree in advance where the interpreter will sit, how parties will be introduced, when the interpreter should translate and how sensitive subjects should be approached.

It’s always useful to provide a written confirmation of the rules you require adherence to in advance, as this will make things easier for the interpreter who will then be able to focus on the task at hand.

2.  Speak clearly and slowly
The tone of your voice, your body language and facial expressions will all help you in getting your point across, so when speaking through an interpreter stay calm, speak slowly and take regular pauses and breaks. Always remember an interpreter has to remember exactly what you have said before translating and relaying that; giving them time to process what you say helps them become more accurate. If you feel you have rushed a sentence, simply repeat it or say you want to rephrase it.

3.  Prepare the interpreter for the task ahead
If an interpreter is going to translate in a complex legal matter or for something sensitive, it will help if they have some time to prepare for the task ahead. It will help if the interpreter has access to some useful background material which highlights any issues involved. These usually come in the form of case notes, witness statements and the like. Anything written in the press also helps gives context. If specialist legal terms are going to be used, it will be helpful to explain this in advance so they can familiarise themselves with the best-fit translations they can adopt during the case.

4.  Guide the interpreter
If the interpreter is speaking too quickly, or is not making points clearly enough or carrying out their job in a manner you are not happy with, you should always say so. This helps the legal interpreter give you exactly what you require. If you are unsure of something you should be forthright and request that it is explained again. This avoids misunderstandings that can crop up from time to time. Always remember the interpreter is there to translate what you say and help you; they should not have their own agenda.

5.  Stay away from humour
Humour is notoriously difficult to interpret so when communicating through an interpreter it is best to avoid it altogether. The same applies to idioms, sayings and phrases which will cause the interpreter headaches and get in the way of clear, simple communication. Keep your language simple and straightforward.

6.  Use visual aids
If the interpreter is to be asked to interpret something which has been prepared in advance, for example a speech or a legal submission, it is a good idea to give the legal interpreter a copy of it in advance if possible. This will be a helpful aid and it can really make a huge difference in the quality of translation. Similarly, use visual aids whenever it appears that people are confused or haven’t quote understood what is being discussed. Photos, images, graphics, etc can all help cut through potential confusion.

Interpreters working in the legal world are first and foremost professionals. They are aware of the demands of working within the sector and the protocols that govern their conduct. However, it is important as a lawyer to ensure the interpreter does the job you need them to do; and this can only be done by working closely with them, communicating your goals and agreeing boundaries.

This Guest Post comes from Kwintessential, a UK based translation and interpreting company. 45% of their work is carried out for legal firms giving them unique insight into the need and use of language services within the legal sector.


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