To err is human, to forgive is divine. That saying is apropos in many facets of life. Many individuals (with no formal training in teaching foreign languages) mistakenly overestimate not only their ability but also the ability of others to intelligibly and fluently speak another language. There are people who understand English very well, but when they speak English, you cannot grasp the meaning of their statements. Further, while you may have the patience and time to muddle through a conversation to understand the other party, court proceedings, Social Security hearings, and medical appointment do not afford that luxury.
Attorneys must be able to communicate with clients, regardless of their English proficiency and hearing impaired status. (Rule 1.4). Additionally, in the Upstate region, there are limited English proficient (LEP) individuals whose first language is an indigenous language (which are not Spanish dialects). These people do not speak Spanish well, if at all. Therefore, attorney-client meetings (at the lawyer’s office, outside the courtroom, depositions, mediations, arbitrations) require the use of skilled, certified court interpreter (where certification is available for the interpreter’s non-English language). “The level of performance the [oral interpreting] test measures is the minimum acceptable level for entry into the profession of spoken language court interpretation. These exams do not measure other aspects of the knowledge, skills, and abilities one must have to perform the duties of a court interpreter, such as engaging in appropriate forms of situational control, dressing and conducting oneself in a manner consistent with the dignity of the court, and delivering services via telephone or as a member of a team” (page 1). How do you locate such an interpreter? Consulting the directories of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters, and the August 2015 South Carolina Court Interpreter Directory. For out-of-court services, contract and payment arrangements are made directly with the court interpreter.
As soon as you are retained by or appointed for an LEP or hearing-impaired person, contact the clerk of court and ask that the file be marked as Interpreter Needed and indicate the language (e.g., Spanish, ASL, Chinese/Mandarin, Chinese/Cantonese, etc.). Additionally, whenever a court date is set, send a court interpreter request immediately. If you file a motion or hearing, forward the request with the motion. Professional career interpreters are usually booked two weeks in advance. A last-minute request is often difficult, if not impossible, to fill. It is a waste of time and money for the court and your client to have a continuance. Furthermore, it is a denial of due process rights to your client to proceed in the interpreter’s absence. (Rule 1.3)
Moreover, in order to represent your client well and gain the client’s trust, you need to guarantee confidentiality (Rule 1.6). Many well-meaning individuals want to help but are clueless about the ethical considerations in court interpreting. Confidentiality may not be guaranteed. In fact, by contracting any bilingual person, you may have inadvertently given the community water cooler something new to bubble forth to anyone who will listen. Likewise, minors under the age of 18, family members, and prisoners are unsuitable and illegal (http://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t15c027.php) . Just as you would not hire a second-year medical student to perform your double-bypass heart surgery, do not entrust confidential issues to just anyone who may use the “interpreter” title. Verification of court interpreter credentials will place you and your client at ease.
If you charge $250 per hour, and your client meeting takes 2 hours to muddle through it, that costs your client $500 (if your client is low-income, you may write some of it off). It also cost you an hour that you could have spent on another client. By hiring an interpreter, the interpreter fees may have been between $160-to $190. Your meeting would have taken one hour, your client would be paying a maximum of $440, and you would have that extra billable hour to devote to someone else. Hiring a court interpreter makes sense.