Deposition Interpreter: A Lawyer's Guide to Cross-Cultural Depositions

Copyright © by Nina Ivanichvili, CEO, All Language Alliance, Inc.

Avoid Interpretation by Interested Persons

Untrained, non-professional interpreters often misunderstand the fact that the interpreter is required to be neutral when interpreting in a legal setting. As a result, they may side with a deponent and translate what the interpreter believes to be favorable rather than what is accurate.11 Interpreters who personally know the defendant or have some interest in the case may have a serious problem in accurately rendering a deponent's testimony, which defeats the purpose of the interpreter in a deposition.

There often are clear signs at the beginning of a deposition that an interpreter is incompetent or noncompliant with the Interpreter's Code. Untrained interpreters commonly fail to use the same grammatical tense as the deponent for whom they are interpreting. For instance, if the deponent says, "I do not recall," the interpreter should repeat, "I do not recall," rather than, "He said he does not recall."

To ensure an accurate record, it is equally important for the deposing attorney to address the deponent directly. If appropriate, the attorney should maintain eye contact with the deponent, as if the interpreter were not present. For instance, counsel should ask the deponent through the interpreter, "Where were you born?" Counsel should not say to the interpreter, "Ask him where he was born."

In the author's experience, immigrants residing in close-knit ethnic communities may know most people in their community. This can make it difficult to find an interpreter who is not a friend or relative of the deponent. It is in the deposing attorney's interest to make sure the interpreter is screened for possible conflicts of interest.

When in doubt regarding the professionalism of an interpreter retained for a deposition by the opposing counsel, an attorney may consider hiring an impartial and qualified "check interpreter." To ensure an accurate record, the check interpreter will speak up only if the main interpreter fails to provide an accurate interpretation of a given statement.

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