Legal Interpretation Services: a roadmap | Stillman Translations
Legal Interpretation Services: a roadmap

The legal interpretation territory can have some moving sands for the inexperienced. Understanding the basic elements of a legal interpretation scenario can be the difference between selecting the right person for the job and learning a useful (but unpleasant) lesson. In this article, we share a list of expert tips and definitions to help you prepare for your next multilingual trial, court hearing or lawyer-client meeting.

Legal interpretation is key in safekeeping the right to communication. But when in charge of a legal practice, identifying the best legal interpretation services to hire may become a daunting exercise. If you or your firm have never had the experience of selecting a language partner in the past, you may benefit from the following explanations and guidelines. 

Legal Interpretation 101 

Legal Interpretation (disambiguation): In this context, the word interpretation refers to the practice of assisting people who speak in different languages to understand each other. The “legal” part of this phrase refers to spoken situations such as:  

  • Police interviews 
  • Lawyer–client meetings 
  • Tribunals 
  • Court hearings 
  • Trials 

And to be clear, interpretation in this context does not refer to the construal of the legal language, which may be a more familiar practice for lawyers and judges. Neither does it refer to the act of converting written legal texts into target language equivalents, which is referred to as translation. We may also refer to this field of expertise by using the phrase: legal interpreting

The case of polysemy (the coexistence of many possible meanings for a word or phrase) we have just experienced, is a typical occurrence in the life of a specialized linguist. This is one of the many reasons why, when it comes to legal matters, it is best to leave interpretation in the hands of a professional language partner.  

One more such reason is the purpose of the legal practice itself: attaining justice. This would be an impossible goal to reach if all parties involved in a legal setting were not capable of understanding each other. Particularly, when social minorities do not speak the language of those in charge of imparting justice, such as law enforcement officials, they may be more prone to victimization.  

When the stakes are as high as to impact human lives, we need to ensure reliable, professional and experienced interpreters are involved. The following tips can help you in doing that. 

1.     Define the interpretation style you need 

The type of interpretation services you may need to hire vary depending on the specific context, number of people, time flexibility, formality of the setting and so on. The definitions below can give you some initial guidance. 

Consecutive versus simultaneous interpretation 

Interpretation may occur in these two different timings. Simultaneous interpretation is the most demanding of the two, as it takes place at the same time as the source language utterance. This means that the interpreter must start rendering the target language version while the interpreted person is still speaking. This interpretation style is typically used at large conferences or events, where there are a large number of attendees and the timelines are not flexible.  

Consecutive interpretation, on the other hand, takes place at intervals, shortly after the source speaker has completed a full idea or utterance. This means the speaker and the interpreter take turns to speak, rather than the latter speaking over the former, which makes the entire interaction longer, but also more flexible.  This type of interpreting is more suitable for a two-way communication, such as an interview.  

If you are thinking of hiring a simultaneous interpretation service, you should bear in mind that you may need at least two interpreters for your event. This is because one simultaneous interpreter may only keep their intense level of focus and attention for up to 20 to 30 minutes, after which a break is required. You should also consider the need for an interpretation booth and special audio systems. All of this will entail a higher investment.  

2.     Consider the importance of professional training 

Legal interpretation is a highly specialized discipline and specific qualifications and certifications exist for a very good reason. When it comes to selecting an interpreter, you can resort to your language services partner to help you find the best person for your specific field. Professional associations around the world are created to group and certify legal field professionals, so you may start by checking this type of registration is available.  

In the USA, for example, legal interpreters may be registered under the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. When working with professionals based abroad, of course, you may need to hire interpreters who are registered under their home country authorities. In any of these cases, your trusted language services partner may guide you in the right direction. They can also organize an interview for you to meet your interpreters in advance, and you may even have a final say in selecting the person/s of your choosing. 

3.     Keep timing in mind for courtroom interpreting 

Legal interpreters may also be required to assist in court. In these cases, the levels of skill and expertise required are very high, as they need to be extremely precise in a very technical and sometimes stressful environment. Also, the courtroom setting means that the difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpretation may disappear.  

The interpreter may have to work alone for very long hours, without a partner to take turns with. They must sometimes resort to simultaneous interpretation in order to save time, but they are not provided with a special booth, so concentrating is more demanding. Also, because the defendant or witnesses in a case may be nervous, it may be hard to understand them. In short, if you are preparing to hire a court interpreter, get ready to meet a superhero. But be aware that finding them may take a little longer than expected, so be sure contact your LSP about your requirements as early as possible.