tion or explanation.
• Interpreting is exhausting. Longer or
more complex meetings may require
multiple interpreters or frequent
breaks for a single interpreter.
• Legal interpreters’ work is to interpret
communications between a lawyer
and a client or witness, not to explain
documents to a client or carry on other
conversations outside your presence.
How Do I Hire a Translator?
As with interpreters, it is generally advisable to hire a professional translator
rather than rely on a relative or untrained
staff member to translate documents. This
is critical for documents to be provided to
a court or opposing counsel, but also important for key written communications
with clients and witnesses.
Japanese translator Saori Sampa was
asked by a law firm to complete a translation begun by a lawyer who had studied
Japanese in college. On receipt of the document, she discovered that the document
was in fact in Korean — hence the lawyer’s
difficulty in translating it.
There is no single certifying body for
translators in the United States. While
some are certified by the American Trans-
lators Association, many highly qualified
translators are not. Key criteria to con-
• Professional experience in the relevant
field, as a translator and/or as a practi-
tioner of another profession (such as a
nurse, engineer, or lawyer).
• Certification by the American Translators Association, the Department of
Social and Health Services, or other
certifying organizations (such as Britain’s Chartered Institute of Linguists).
• The translator’s native language: translators provide the highest quality and
most reliable translations when they
are translating into their native tongue.
• Academic degrees, and periods of
residence and/or study in countries
where the translator’s other language
The online translator registries for the
American Translators Association (atanet.
and the Northwest
Translators and Interpreters Society
find-a-translator-or-interpreter) enable easy searching for a translator
with the experience you need.
While good-quality translations require time and money, they save time
and money in the long run. Spanish legal
translator and U.S. lawyer Kevin Linder
recalls spending a full day editing the
Spanish-to-English translation of a commercial litigation brief by a Mexican colleague with high-school-level English.
The translation was so full of false cognates, such as “celebrating a contract,”
that Kevin was forced to re-translate the
brief from scratch.
If using Google Translate, be aware
that it does not maintain the confidentiality of documents and can be inaccurate. As an example, consider text
from a request from a Mexican court
to a U.S. court for assistance in obtaining evidence for a Mexican case. My
translation of guidance to the judge was
“S/he shall have the broadest power to
issue any court order deemed suitable
for the carrying out of the proceedings.”
Google Translate’s translation was “You
have the broadest powers to implement
all the measures he deems appropriate
for diligenciación due.”
How Do I Work Effectively with a
A few considerations will make your col-
laboration with a translator efficient, and
• If you plan to translate a document
you’re drafting, strive to make it clear
and concise. Advise the translator on
the desired tone and audience.
• Collaborate with your translator to
determine an appropriate editing pro-
cess. For documents for courts or op-
posing counsel, it is highly advisable
to have a second translator review and
edit a translation to ensure its accuracy
and completeness. Experienced trans-
lators typically have an editing partner
they can recom-
• If you need to
translate a large
volume of documents, consult
with your translator. The translator
may be able to help
you narrow down
• It is not realistic to obtain a translation that is cheap, fast, and high-quality. Consider which two factors matter
most in a given context and proceed
For more information, professional
translators and interpreters are typically well-informed and love providing
assistance. You may also wish to refer to
the American Translators Association
publications on working with translators and interpreters ( www.atanet.org/
publications/ getting_it_right.php), WA
Courts General Rule 11. 2 (Code of Conduct for Interpreters), and www.lep.gov
(federal interagency website addressing
language access for federal and federally
The assistance of an experienced translator or interpreter can make working in a
foreign language almost as easy as working in English, freeing you up to focus on
successful advocacy for your client. NWL
is a Seattle-
jurisprudence, Spanish mining
contracts, or Uruguayan companies’
annual reports, she enjoys exploring
our beautiful state with family and
friends. She can be reached at julie@