OSB Professional Liability Fund

Using Interpreters or Translators

September 6, 2019
by Rachel Edwards

If you find yourself involved in a matter that may require the use of an interpreter or translator, below are some guidelines and resources to help you understand and streamline the process:

When to hire an interpreter or translator 

An interpreter interprets oral communications, whereas a translator translates documents or other media, such as videos. It is the attorney’s responsibility to determine whether an interpreter or translator is necessary. Whether or not you need to involve an interpreter or translator is dependent on various factors, such as the location and type of communication at issue. For example, the Oregon state courts have statutory authority to provide interpreters in certain situations, paid by the state, as discussed on their website. If you suspect an interpreter or translator will be necessary when appearing in state court, know whether or not the court will provide such services, and what steps must be taken to ensure proper arrangements are made in advance. The same approach should be taken elsewhere, such as a municipal court or administrative agency. Outside of the court or other administrative system, such as client meetings or depositions, it is again the attorney’s responsibility to determine whether an interpreter or translator is necessary.

Professional or nonprofessional

Once you’ve determined that an interpreter or translator is necessary, you may be responsible for finding these services if outside a court or other administrative agency. Consider various factors in deciding whether to use a professional or nonprofessional. Professionals are often more familiar with specialized vocabulary and legal terms. Nonprofessionals, often family or friends of clients, likely will not have such familiarity. Consider using professionals for more formal situations involving specialized vocabulary or legal terms, such as signing legal documents or depositions. Nonprofessionals may be better suited for more routine communications like client meetings, depending on the subject matter of the discussion. Using a client’s family or friends as interpreters or translators is common, but, again, they may not be familiar with particular terms, and may be prone to biased interpretation depending on the circumstances. A conflict may also arise between the client and the nonprofessional, so be careful not to use current clients as interpreters for other clients. If using an interpreter or translator on a regular basis, consider hiring a staff person or persons who can provide these services.

Choosing the right person

Whether or not interpreting or translating services are being provided by a court or other administrative agency, do your due diligence beforehand. Before involving an interpreter or translator, understand the client’s proficiency as well as any particular dialects. For example, many dialects exist for certain languages that are unintelligible among the different dialects. Choose someone who speaks the client’s first or preferred language and dialect. Also determine the client’s background, such as traumatic experiences that may lead to certain preferences. Whomever you choose, the person must be qualified for the circumstances, impartial, and understand confidentiality obligations.

Finding an interpreter or translator

  1. Oregon state courts. If appearing in state court and need to use interpreting or translating services, go to their website for information on requirements and scheduling.
  2. Other court or administrative agency. If you are outside of the state court system, contact the court or agency you will be appearing in front of to determine requirements and scheduling.
  3. Informal. If you must find your own interpreter or translator, for situations like client meetings, signing legal documents, or depositions, below are various options:
    • Oregon Court Interpreter Roster. The Oregon state courts have particular statutory requirements when appointing interpreters, depending on the circumstances. This has led to the use of different certification programs that interpreters must complete before appointment. A roster is available online that lists interpreters who have earned certain credentials through these programs. You may be able to hire an interpreter from this roster, depending on their availability.
    • IRCO International Language Bank (https://irco.org/ilb/). IRCO (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization), is a nonprofit organization based in Portland that provides a multitude of services to immigrants and refugees, such as housing, employment, and legal representation. They also provide various interpreting and translation services, both onsite and remote, in many different languages.
    • Passport to Languages (https://www.passporttolanguages.com/). This Portland-based company links interpreters and translators to individuals and organizations throughout the state.
    • Telelanguage (https://telelanguage.com/). Another Portland-based company that provides interpreting and translation services to individuals and organizations throughout the state.

Practice Tips

If interpreting or translating services are being provided by the court or administrative agency, be sure things like fees and confidentiality obligations are discussed and preferably put into writing beforehand. Wherever the services are being provided, below are some practice tips to consider:
  • Written fee agreement. Use a written fee agreement with the interpreter or translator, including fees charged, scope of the engagement, and a confidentiality clause. See sample confidentiality language on our website. Also set up the arrangement so that fees are paid directly from the attorney to the interpreter or translator. Attorneys can pass interpreting or translating fees along to the client as long as they are reasonable and are disclosed in the fee agreement.
  • Certificate of translation. If using a translator to translate documents, consider attaching a “certificate of true translation” made under oath and signed and dated by the translator.
  • Dynamics affecting interpretation. Beware of personal interests or family dynamics that could affect the interpretation if using family or friends as interpreters. Even if the dynamics appear reasonable in the beginning, circumstances can quickly change throughout the case. Also look for cues that interpretation is not being done properly or disputes are arising between the client and the interpreter, whether a professional or nonprofessional is being used. Miscommunication may be caused by various misunderstandings or personal disputes.
  • Make it easier to facilitate interpretation. Depending on the circumstances, do your best to make it easier on the interpreter. Speak slowly and in short segments, and avoid unnecessary or hypothetical language that may complicate interpretation.