Good, clear communication can be difficult enough to accomplish when you and your client both speak the same language. If your client does not speak English at all or has limited English proficiency (LEP), then the task of communicating during your client meetings is especially problematic. Whether discussing the facts of your client’s potential case or deposing a witness with limited English abilities, it is important to know when to bring in an interpreter. Here are just a few examples of when to call in a professional interpreter to assist you.
- The client brings along a child or friend to interpret informally. While it may be tempting to use a family member or friend to interpret during your client meetings, you cannot be sure that this individual is qualified and proficient enough in both languages to ensure both you and your client understand each other. Not to mention the fact that while the family member may mean well, he/she may end up inserting or omitting key information in order to try to help or protect your client, which could change the outcome of your case. If the client is concerned enough with his or her English-speaking abilities to bring someone along, then using a qualified professional interpreter is the best way to meet both your needs. A qualified legal interpreter will have extensive training and experience in legal interpreting, and he/she must abide by a professional code of ethics. You can rest assured that your client’s sensitive information is both protected and delivered to you accurately.
- The client appears to struggle when the conversation gets more technical. Even if your LEP client has been able to “get by” during the vast majority of your meetings, it is best to use an interpreter to communicate offers, sign paperwork, prepare for plea deals, or go over extensive legal information or documents. Someone may have a very good grasp of the vernacular used for everyday conversations and be completely incapable of understanding specific jargon in these scenarios.
- The client requests one. This one may seem obvious, but dismissing a client’s request for an interpreter can make or break your case. Even if you seem to be communicating well before the client’s request, your client knows when he/she would feel more comfortable having someone interpret in their own language. If your client is comfortable communicating with you, they will be less likely to come back to you later with issues or claim that they didn’t understand what was happening at the time of your communications.
BONUS TIP! If your client is deaf or hard of hearing, you may actually be required to bring in a qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter or other sufficient auxiliary aid based on Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Remember, ensuring good, clear communication between you and your client is key to delivering the best service possible. It will protect you from any potential issues that may arise from language barriers and will save you from having multiple meetings on the same subject. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and offer to bring in an interpreter or even use a telephonic interpreting service when it will be sufficient.