The world as we know it is changing in a fast pace and a great number of changes had to be implemented. In the interpreting/translation industry, many assignments went from being on-site to virtual. In spite of these various changes, some processes remain the same. For instance, I found that interpreting in a law firm still requires the same amount of preparation. Additionally, the steps one follows to successfully complete an interpreting assignment remain the same.
Do you have a first interpreting assignment lined-up in a law firm? Are you anxious to be in a legal setting with attorneys? Are you shaking in your boots at the mere thought of failing miserably on your first assignment? No worries – we all go through the same feelings and you are not alone. So, sit back, relax and check out these few tips that have helped me get through those challenging depositions and attorneys’ meetings.
Before the assignment day:
- Contact your point of contact a few days before the day of the assignment and kindly request the material that will be used for the assignment if possible (Keep in mind that almost everything used in the legal setting and law firm is confidential and subject to a confidentiality clause. Explain that the material will be used solely for preparation.)
- Prepare a specific glossary, if you are successful in retrieving the actual documents. If not, ask what the topic will be and conduct research on that topic. Preparation includes research on the topic, as well as creating glossaries of the terminology that will be used during the assignment.
- Ask for the names of the participants as well so you can research any specific information about them.
On the day of the assignment:
- Dress in business attire and neutral/dark colors, as attorneys tend to dress professionally (suit and tie for men, equivalent for women).
- 5 to 10 minutes before the start, request to speak to the attorneys and the clients who will participate in the meeting, and go over the following items:
- Briefly explain to all parties how an interpreting assignment works, and what your expectations are (with a lot of tactfulness; we work for them, and our work is heavily reliant on great customer service and soft skills).
- Explain to them that the process would be more efficient for them to ask one question at the time, to pause give you time to render it before moving on to the next question. Ask the limited-proficiency person to give one answer at a time, then pause in order to give you time to answer before moving to the next point.
- Ask them to be mindful of their speaking speed so that the rendition remains accurate.
- Request a break at least every 30 minutes, but make them aware of that expectation before the start of the assignment, not during the assignment.
- Always have a bottle of water, note pad and pens or pencils readily available. Sometimes those are provided by the firm, but sometimes they are We should always have our own supplies.
- The assignment is over? Great! What to do after the assignment?
After the assignment:
- Remember, great customer service goes a long way: always thank all the parties involved before leaving the law firm.
- Apologize for any incident or hiccup that may have occurred during the assignment (whether it was caused by you or not).
- Update your glossary with any terms you learned during the job and write down any feedback for yourself you want to remember for the future.
- If the assignment was for a direct client, email them and thank them again for the opportunity.
- If the assignment was scheduled by an agency, make sure your point of contact in the firm signs your purchase order or any other document before you leave. Then, email the agency to touch-base about the assignment.
Great job! You have completed your first assignment in a law firm!
Each interpreter has his or her own system and process, of course. However, these few tips could help ease your mind so that the focus could be on successfully executing the assignment and I hope it will be useful to any of you, whether you are a newbie or a seasoned interpreter. We all learn something new every day!
Finally, preparation is key and it is always better to be overprepared than underprepared. Comfort and excellence will come from repetition, and as the illustrious Will Durant once said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
About the Author:
Cathy-Eitel Nzume is a certified French<>English court interpreter and translator specializing in legal, corporate, commercial and conference interpretation and translation. She holds Master of Law degrees from the University of Picardie Jules Verne in France and Howard University in Washington, D.C. She also hosts the French Language Division’s podcast.
Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The above post reflects the author’s views and opinions, not those of her employer.