Southeastern Legal Translators & Interpreters Network
Southeastern Legal Translators & Interpreters Network 

Why a certified interpreter?

Why can't I use my investigator / my secretary / my brother-in-law as interpreter? It's cheaper.  Amazing, but true: unqualified and unscrupulous people often charge more than certified interpreters--and get away with it until disaster strikes. The use of unqualified interpreters leads to confusion and to miscarriages of justice, appeals, medical malpractice and personal injury, enormous law-suits, etc. How does $71 million strike you?


There is an insurmountable conflict of interest in using a family member or other unqualified person with a vested interest in outcome to interpret in any setting, and it is a waste of money. Imagine the mess that can result from using a family member to communicate with someone who would not necessariy want his or her family to know all the details of the incident to be discussed. 


Recently, one of our certified Spanish-language interpreters was hired by a court, drove 300 miles, incurred a hotel stay, arrived in court the next day for a hearing on a plea of guilty only to discover that the defendant hardly spoke Spanish--but rather spoke an indigenous American language, which had not been detected in the attorney's numerous dealings with his client because their "interpreter" had been the defense investigator--and not a trained, professional interpreter, who looks for indicators of lack of comprehension. Now the entire process needs to be repeated--and paid for--all over again, and this happens all too often.


A judge once illustrated the importance of using a competent, certified interpreter for court, by saying that were someone to need brain surgery, he would certainly avoid the bargain-basement doctor, and he felt the same about the need to use certified interpreters.


What if my interpreter tells the other side information about our meetings?

Attorneys: court interpreters are officers of the court, just as you are, and their presence is part of the judicial mechanism. We are held to the very same strict confidentiality standards as are attorneys. We can lose our certification if we do not adhere to those standards. This is precisely one of the most important reasons to use interpreters who are certified or otherwise judicially qualified (for languages where no certification yet exists).


I've heard about interpreters who give legal advice, or interfere in cases. 

Yes, we've heard those horror stories, too. There are bad actors in every profession. Believe us when we say that, in our thousands of hours in court and related assignments, we've seen and heard of things done by interpreters, judges, attorneys, and others that we knew did not comply with ethical standards. Just as for misconduct by other court officers, we encourage you to report it to the judiciary if you see an interpreter acting unethically.


My client speaks some English. We can communicate OK most of the time. Why should I need to complicate this with an interpreter? That might be fine if you and your client are chit-chatting over coffee. But you are discussing potenially life-changing decisions. Would you like to be dropped in Nepal, with "some Nepali" and have to navigate the legal system?
























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