Being an interpreter is not easy. You have to listen, memorize, change the words to the target language, and finally say them out loud accurately. Ask a bilingual person with no training to do it and you'll start getting summaries and omissions of the original statement. Now, on top of that add all the legal vocabulary (i.e. lien, arraignment, pro se, etc) and it'll be messy. So these are the top 5 qualities a law firm should look for when scheduling an interpreter:
I'm putting this one at the top because it's an easy if not the best to gauge how good the interpreter is. Of course, just the fact that someone has been doing something for a long time doesn't mean that they're great at it. But it does mean that they have probably encountered many of the legal terms before and that they are used to the ways attorneys tend to ask questions. I
would also pay attention and ask the interpreter questions to make sure the experience is within the legal system. For example, being an advocate for the limited English speaker and making him or her feel comfortable are roles of the interpreter in the medical field but certainly not in the legal field. Those are things that you learn through training and experience. All in all, experience is key when finding a great interpreter and should be the first thing that is looked at.
2) The Referral
The second thing that would tell me if an interpreter is good would be a referral from another law firm or attorney, specially if they speak Spanish themselves. Receiving a referral from a colleague
hands down, if you get the name of an interpreter from a fellow attorney, call him/her. You'll be glad you did.
This one would be harder to evaluate without getting to know the interpreter a bit but it's so important. No interpreter, no matter how good he or she is, no matter the amount of experience, is 100% perfect. That means that at some point or another a mistake will be made or an unknown word will be heard. An interpreter that is great will acknowledge that on the spot. An interpreter that is mediocre will just give a bad interpretation in order to avoid looking bad in front of everyone. For example, one time a witness was quoting a study and mentioned a "pluripotent" cell. Half of the readers of the blog won't know what that is. I knew what it was but I honestly did not know the word in the target language so I had to ask as the interpreter for a few seconds to look it up. Some might say that made me look bad but to me giving an accurate translation is more important. Having an interpreter that you can trust to acknowledge his own mistakes is vital.
This is another one that would be hard to know at first unless the interpreter is coming in through a referral. The professionalism between interpreters varies greatly and covers many things. It could vary between wearing a tie vs. no tie to disclosing details of a settlement with others. Thankfully most people have a built-in radar for unprofessional people. Whether the interpreter is on time or his/her shirt is wrinkled could be good clues of his/her professionalism overall but they are JUST clues. I will say if you receive a bad referral for an interpreter, do not call him/her. There are plenty to choose from.
I left credentials for last not because they are not important but because there are so many of them and could be confusing. Also unless you are really in the interpreting scene, comparing them would be tough. There is the NCSC (probably the most recognized), the ACTFL, the CCHI, the CMI, the ATA (translations), to name a few. There are also different "tiers" within the state of Utah court system. In descending order they would be:
-Federal Certification: Takes 2-3yrs to complete exam, very thorough. Definitely qualified.
-State Certification: Takes about a year to complete with all necessary classes. Definitely qualified.
-State Approved: Takes about six months to complete. Kind of a gray area, some interpreters are great and just awaiting a test date to become certified and others are mediocre. Qualified.
-State Registered: Not a lot of testing has been done. This is common in rare languages.
-State Conditionally Approved: Only have been approved for a specific hearing. I wouldn't reach out to this group unless it was a dialect or very rare language.
Now that you have the information you need, go find yourself a great interpreter! ...Or just call us, it's the next tab over.