Certified Interpreters: Allies in preserving the attorney-client relationship
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By Rachel Albin, Albin Bilingual Services, L.L.C.

The value of an attorney’s work is not just in her knowledge of the law, but in her professionalism and ethics. The same is true for interpreters. Aside from our language capabilities, certified court interpreters are trained and tested on the ethics of our profession, many of which mirror attorney ethics and values. Iowa Supreme Court-certified interpreters abide by a code of ethics spelled out in Iowa Court Rules Chapter 48. Below are explanations on how certified interpreters’ professional standards preserve the attorney-client relationships, some potential complications presented by using untrained interpreters and how to identify a certified interpreter. 

Impartiality and avoidance of conflict of interest
Certified interpreters decline to interpret in situations where they have a personal stake in the case, where a party is a friend or relative, or where they have strong feelings about the issue in question or the party involved. Unfortunately, untrained interpreters may not discern conflicts of interest. This puts accurate, unbiased interpretation at risk, even when the untrained interpreter involved means well. Consider this example: Your client’s wife speaks English well. She is happy to interpret because she wants her husband’s legal problem resolved. Like anyone, she watches out for her family’s finances. So, she mixes interpretation with encouraging her husband to resolve the issue as quickly as possible to keep attorney fees down. 

Scope of practice
Attorneys are careful to advise clients in the areas of law they practice and refer questions about other areas of law to colleagues with the appropriate expertise. Certified interpreters take the same care to limit their scope of involvement in legal matters to the interpretation. For example, perhaps you are meeting with your client to discuss a case through an interpreter when you need to retrieve a form from a file cabinet in another room. In the brief moment you are gone, your client might ask the interpreter a question about the case. Certified interpreters know to reply that they cannot advise the person and disclose the question to the attorney when she returns. An untrained interpreter may not understand that only the client’s lawyer should give him legal advice, and proceed to offer friendly recommendations or assurances out of the lawyer’s presence. 

Accuracy and completeness
Certified interpreters support open, honest communication between attorney and client by interpreting precisely what is said, without additions, omissions or changes and do not express their personal opinions.  They allow the attorney and client to speak directly to one another without interference or personal opinions. Untrained interpreters may feel conflicted about this for a variety of reasons. Perhaps a client is a woman whose niece has offered to interpret. The niece may try to protect her aunt from embarrassment by omitting or changing some details when the conversation becomes very personal. She may see her aunt becoming distressed and try to put a positive spin on attorney advice. If she thinks her aunt is not asking the right questions, she might even abandon interpretation all together and start asking her own questions, pushing her aunt out of her own legal affairs. 

Certified interpreters uphold attorney-client privilege and keep everything we interpret confidential. If untrained interpreters are unfamiliar with the concept of attorney-client privilege, they may divulge privileged information.  For example, continuing with the hypothetical where a client’s niece is serving as her interpreter, the niece may feel compelled to tell other family members what she learned during the interpreted discussion. 

Certified interpreters are the best communication option to maintain candid, confidential communication with clients who speak limited English. Interpreter classifications are listed in court appointment orders. Class A interpreters are those who are certified. Appointment orders cover attorney-client meetings as well as hearings.

If you are seeking a certified interpreter on your own, consult the Iowa Judicial Branch’s list of interpreters: http://www.iowacourts.gov/Administration/Court_Interpreters/Roster/

Rachel Albin is a Class A certified Spanish court interpreter. She works independently as Albin Bilingual Services, L.L.C. She lives in Des Moines but travels the state to interpret. Contact her at rachel.albin@gmail.com or 402-560-6064.


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