How to Select a Deposition Interpreter for Your Civil Deposition
Selecting the right deposition interpreter is a process. Generally speaking, the party who schedules (or “notices”), a deposition will be the one to select the interpreter. Therefore, the onus is on the examining attorney to select an appropriate, qualified and, when possible, certified interpreter who will enable the deposition to proceed as smoothly and as orderly as possible and whose deposition interpreting will produce the most accurate deposition transcript possible. The first step in selecting an interpreter for a deposition is to carefully-and accurately-determine the foreign language spoken by the deponent, including the proper dialect of the particular language (if any). Failing to determine the correct language and dialect can be a source of immense embarrassment and wasted expense for lawyers. Consider, for example, the following hypothetical:
It is Friday afternoon and settlement negotiations for a complex personal injury trial scheduled for Monday have stalled. A stressed-out trial attorney, who expected the case to settle, suddenly realizes that she has not booked the Taishanese interpreter her client needs for trial. The attorney immediately ask her assistant try to find an available interpreter without success. That weekend, instead of preparing for deposition, the attorney spends her time “Googling” local Taiwanese interpreters and, hours later, locates a company that promises to send an interpreter in time for the start of deposition. On Monday morning, however, when the interpreter appears in court, the attorney realizes something is very wrong. The interpreter only speaks Taiwanese, and not Taishanese, a Chinese dialect, which sounds deceptively similar to “Taiwanese” to English speakers. The attorney must now approach the judge and opposing counsel and inform them that she hired the wrong interpreter and ask for a continuance or time to hire the correct interpreter. This type of mistake puts the attorney at an immediate disadvantage with the court, which likely has a limited amount of time in which to conduct the trial, and may cause her client to doubt her ability to provide effective representation.
Attorneys must also take steps to ensure that the interpreter speaks the correct dialect of the particular language. Even though a professional interpreter may be fluent in a foreign language, he or she may not know all of the dialects within the language. For example, there are as many as eight dialects in China, and one dialect may not be understood by someone who speaks another dialect. Thus, simply requesting a “Chinese interpreter” for a Chinese-speaking client or deponent may lead to hiring the wrong interpreter. Attorneys should always be mindful of the need to inquire into the correct dialect when hiring a professional interpreter.
An issue that attorneys often face when dealing with multicultural clients and deponents is what to do when the deponent speaks and understands some English. In this scenario, it might seem easier and more cost-effective to just proceed with the deposition in English. However, it is generally inadvisable to have deponents testify in English unless they possess complete fluency in the language. Likewise, having the interpreter present to interpret only when necessary is also not advisable, as deponents might begin mixing both English and foreign words as needed while testifying. This can create confusion on the part of the deposition interpreter, counsel, and the court reporter, and is likely to make it difficult for the court reporter to produce a clean and accurate transcript. There is little to be gained by having a deponent testify in a language with which he or she is not completely comfortable; likewise, there is little to be gained by allowing deponent to testify in two languages. Although some clients may resist the use of an interpreter, especially if they think their English is “perfect,” attorneys should realistically assess their client’s English speaking abilities for themselves instead of relying on the client’s own biased opinion of their language capabilities. In this type of scenario, attorneys should be prepared to explain to the client how and why hiring an interpreter is truly in their best interest.
Once the correct deposition interpreter has been selected, attorneys should consider whether it is necessary to hire a specialty area interpreter. In addition to being linguists, some interpreters (and translators), are professionally qualified to provide interpreting services in cases involving aerospace, biochemistry, computer science, electrical engineering, finance, law, physics, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications. While some translation companies may have such types of experts on staff locally, in some cases, an interpreter or translator experienced in a certain complex subject matter may have to be brought in from another state. Thus, in cases involving a specialized or complex discipline, lawyers should plan for the possible use of a special interpreter at the beginning of the case and seek out the interpreter or translator’s availability as soon as possible or in conjunction with the scheduling of depositions. Lawyers should give careful consideration as to whether the case warrants the use of a specialized interpreter or translator not just at trial but also during the oral or written discovery process when the attorney will need to be obtaining information and documents as accurately as possible.
Finally, before hiring a legal deposition interpreter, attorneys should make every effort to ensure that the selected interpreter has experience interpreting during depositions and legal proceedings. As with any professional hire, it may be wise to review the interpreter’s experience, background, and references before hiring.