3 Lawyer Tips For Working With Oral Interpreters


Whether your interpreter is hired privately or by a governmental entity, the interpreter in a deposition or court proceeding serves as an officer of the court. Legal interpreters help ensure non-English speakers gain equal access to our judicial system and assist the courts by facilitating communication with non-English speakers in an impartial and unbiased role.

Accuracy and Completeness of Interpretation

Legal interpreters should be able to accomplish sight translation, as well as simultaneous and consecutive interpreting. Additionally, court interpreters should understand and abide by the guidelines set out in the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules, Rule 511, Rules of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters (RPCCI). Court interpreters are distinctively different from purely bilingual persons with some degree of proficiency in two or more languages. While a bilingual person may paraphrase, change, omit, or summarize aspects of an interpretation, this is an unacceptable interpreting practice in the legal arena. Highly skilled professional interpreters who serve the Bar and Judiciary have an “obligation to conserve every element of information contained in a source language communication when it is rendered in the target language,” Rule 511, RPCCI, Rule 1 Commentary.

Qualifications of Interpreter

A certified interpreter may not always be the best communication solution, or there may not be a certified interpreter conveniently available in the target language you need interpreted. You may decide to seek out a qualified interpreter. For instance, if you have a highly technical, scientific, or medical issue in your case, you may want someone who has demonstrated not only a high level of proficiency in both the source language and target language, but who has the appropriate training and experience to accurately translate the subject matter. If your litigation has a challenging vernacular, like legal language, you may want to meet with the interpreter ahead of time to assess his abilities and to provide relevant spellings for words and names that are specific to your case. Whether you hire a certified interpreter or qualified interpreter, either professional should adhere to the rules set out in the RPCCI.

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) provides access to the South Carolina Judiciary Department court interpreter certification exams through the Council of Language Access Coordinators housed in the Language Access Services Section of NCSC. Exams are currently available for thirteen languages, including Spanish.

The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters & Translators offered a certification exam until 2012 when certification became available through NCSC. The American Translators Association (ATA) certification is a voluntary credential that demonstrates a strong commitment and ethical belief by the interpreter. ATA’s website hosts a Directory of Translators and Interpreters that searches language combinations, specialties, and location.

Scope of Practice

Oral interpreters are responsible only for facilitating others in communication. An interpreter should limit himself to the task of interpreting or translating only. If an interpreter is required to initiate communications during a deposition or legal proceeding, the interpreter should make it clear for the record that he is speaking for himself. The reason for an interpreter initiating communication may be to request a speaker to slow down, repeat or rephrase something, or to correct his own interpreting error. The interpreter is also under the obligation to notify the parties if he feels he lacks the ability to competently interpret the assignment.

An interpreter may convey legal advice from an attorney to a witness only while the attorney is giving the advice.

Certainly there are other important elements to keep in mind when hiring or working with an interpreter, such as confidentiality, conflicts of interest, professional demeanor, and the like. Our court reporters and legal videographers are experienced in working with interpreters in both the conference room and courtroom. If you need assistance scheduling legal interpreting services for your deposition, please contact our staff for further details.