Wise words – in any language

In the global sphere of the legal profession the need for efficient and respected interpreters is constantly growing, writes Linda Tsang. Linda Tsang is a freelance journalist.

With the globalisation of legal practice, good and accurate translators and interpreters are vital for lawyers if they want to provide high-quality advice and legal services. A good starting point for any practice looking for a translator or interpreter is to check whether the individual or company is a member of the Institute of Translators and Interpreters, the Association of Translation Companies, or the Institute of Linguists. The relevance of each of these bodies will depend on whether you need a translator for text, such as sworn statements, or an interpreter for speech, such as court testimony or conference seminars.

Although membership of these bodies is not compulsory, it does indicate that members have met minimum criteria, such as trading for at least three consecutive years and possessing recognised qualifications. These recognised bodies also implement systems to check the accuracy of interpreters’ work, in addition to enforcing a code of conduct and disciplinary procedures. There is often the requirement that the company has full professional indemnity insurance, usually to a minimum of £100,000.

Lawyers should take the time to obtain references from their preferred translation company – not just to ask previous clients for their feedback, but also to ensure that the freelancers they use are qualified and reputable.

Plans in the pipeline for the Association of Translation Companies include a proposed arbitration procedure to deal with disputes between translation companies, and the production of quality standards to cover translation practices across Europe.

One issue that is particularly relevant for legal aid practices is where the contract entered into with the translation company involves their fees being paid from the legal aid fund. Legal aid cases are often paid after the taxing master has decided on the allowable expenses, but legal aid practices should remember that the contract is between the firm and the translation company, and the translation company is entitled to look to the instructing firm for settlement of any outstanding payment. It is essential, therefore, that the fee structure and payment terms are agreed in writing at the outset.

Once you have found a translation company, you should give as full a brief as possible. In terms of documentation, always try to plan ahead and give the company sufficient time to do the translation. The brief should be unambiguous and give all the relevant information – state precisely whether the final translation is be used as background information or as principal evidence, and to whom it will be circulated.

Many companies are equipped with the latest technology, so it is often quicker to provide the documentation on a floppy disk or via e-mail, or in a form that can be easily scanned. Many companies have also automated certain processes so that in cases of repetitive work, there are programmed translation tools in place with a recognised glossary for particular fields – whether legal, scientific or specific to another industry – which will speed up the process. However, you will still need an intelligent translator.

If you are using an interpreter, give precise details of the court where they are required, and how many witnesses they will have to interpret for, as well as the likely time that they will be engaged. It is not always possible to predict the length of a case, but you can give an estimated time. Also state whether you require a consecutive or simultaneous interpreter. For courts, you usually need a consecutive interpreter, and again this should be decided at the outset.

The rates for translation work are usually based on a per-thousand-words basis. For interpreting, costs will centre on an hourly rate, or if it is a long-running case, you could negotiate a daily or weekly fee. There will be different levels of charges, depending on the language combination and language groups involved. The crucial point is that the translator involved will always translate into their mother tongue, and the cheapest language groups will be the most common, such as those of Western Europe. Rarer language groups include Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and Africa, which are consequently more expensive.

In relation to transcription from tapes, such as from a police station interview, the normal procedure is for the tape to be transcribed into text in the original language and then translated. As this work involves two stages, it will usually take longer and is therefore likely to carry a heavier price tag.

Finally, whatever service is required, the one thing law firms need to to know is whether the translation company is recognised in the legal market, and can understand the technicalities, terminologies and nuances of legal terms, as well as how they may differ from one legal system to another.