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Services for Lawyers: Hiring a Translator or Interpreter

Despite the growing influence of the English language in business affairs across the globe, the world -- and the U.S. -- is far from a monolingual place. International lawyers and immigration attorneys use translators and interpreters a lot, but there will come a time in everyone's law practice when documents or witness testimony that needs to be presented, or understood, will not be available in English. Or, you may need to present your English-language documents or testimony to a foreign audience or tribunal. Even if you or your staff has skills in multiple foreign languages, you can't anticipate what language you may be faced with in the course of your practice. When that crucial document is written in Yiddish or that key witness speaks only Telugu, you may need to engage the services of a company that can provide all manner of translation and interpretation services.

Situations Requiring a Translator or Interpreter

Strictly speaking, "translators" are for the written word. If you have contracts, briefs, prenuptial agreements, summonses, litigation documents, disclaimers, patents, licenses, correspondence, evidentiary transcripts, or a website that you need rendered into a different language, you're looking for translation.

"Interpreters," on the other hand, are for the spoken word. Aside from courtroom and deposition testimony, you may need an interpreter for business meetings, recorded statements, insurance investigations, independent medical exams, or any examination under oath.

Considerations in Hiring a Translation/Interpretation Services Company

  • Do they make house calls? You may have received numerous boxes of discovery documents written in a foreign language, and not know which are relevant. If the translator can work with you at your office to screen and review documents in advance of the need for translation, it can save you time and money.
  • Will your translator or interpreter have loose lips? Make sure you get a nondisclosure agreement. Seek out translators and interpreters who are lawyers themselves, with an understanding of ethical duties -- yours and theirs.
  • Can they handle a rush job? You might need translation on an expedited basis. See how it affects their pricing.
  • Can they handle small jobs? Find out what their project minimums are. You might just need a few paragraphs translated, but that little translation job may be crucial.
  • Do they review the work of others? If you're not 100% confident in your own translation efforts, you might want an edited version from an expert.
  • Do they retain the formatting of documents they've translated? If you need to compare and edit the documents in different languages, you'll want the translated version to look like the original.
  • How much will it cost? Translators can charge by the word, by the project, or by the hour.


Check Compliance with the Legal Requirements

Before hiring an interpreter for testimonial purposes, make sure he or she meets the tribunal's requirements for serving as such. Also, you should know whether the court provides interpretation services for the relevant language for free.

Many government agencies have rules for the presentation of translated documents. You'll want your translation services company to be able to comply with these. For example, a translation may need to be prepared using the original document (and not a faxed and photocopied version); it may need to be printed on the translation agency's official letterhead; or it may need to contain identifying information about the translator. You may also need to determine whether translations performed in foreign countries are acceptable.


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