A quick guide to using interpreters for solicitors

IMD TranslationBy Legal Futures Associate IMD Legal Translation & Interpreting

If you are a solicitor requiring assistance of an interpreter, we understand you may have some questions. If you and your clients do not speak the same language, you will need an interpreter to communicate between each other as swiftly and accurately as possible. However, there are different ways of interpreting. In this article, we provide a guide to working with interpreters, including types of interpreting and our top tips for working with interpreters.

Legal interpreting: explained

Legal interpretation is the oral translation of the spoken word between two languages accurately and completely unbiased. The accuracy and neutral nature of legal interpreting are essential, as the slightest nuance can influence the outcome of a case.  In the case of courtroom interpreting, it is the interpreter’s role to ensure that the person who requires the interpreter’s services is understood correctly. Legal interpreters must have both an understanding of the language pairing but also excellent knowledge of the legal procedure, terminology in the specific field of law they are working in,  and good cultural understanding.


Types of interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation

Simultaneous interpreting is where the interpreter delivers the translation only a few seconds after the non-English speaker begins speaking in their native language. This type of interpreting is very demanding and requires deep concentration and exceptional linguistic skills. The delay between the native speaker talking and the interpreter delivering the translation is very short, almost instantaneously, which means the interpreter must listen, interpret and even paraphrase some of what the non-English speaker is saying. A judge may sometimes request simultaneous interpreting in court, and the interpreter can interpret everything said by the non-English speaker, lawyers, witnesses or the judge usually from an interpreting booth, where the interpreter sits listening through a headset and interpreting into a microphone, with the listeners receiving the interpretation into their own headsets

Alternatively, Whispered Interpreting may be used, where the interpreter sits right next to the person they are interpreting for and whispers the interpretation into their ear. Due to the extremely demanding nature of simultaneous interpreting interpreters tend to work in 20-30 minutes stretches before requiring a break of at least 10 minutes, and it is not recommended to insist upon a single simultaneous interpreter for long stretches of work – in 2009, Muammar Gaddafi’s poor interpreter broke down and collapsed from exhaustion after trying to keep up with the verbose Libyan leader for over 90 minutes!

Consecutive interpretation

Consecutive interpreting is the most commonly used service by solicitors as it is both less demanding on the interpreter and gives more opportunity for clarification. With consecutive interpreting, the interpreter will listen to what the speaker has to say, oftentimes taking notes, before delivering the interpretation in the target language. Due to its consecutive nature, rather than a running commentary as in Simultaneous Interpreting, this type of interpreting allows more opportunity for all parties to clarify understanding, potentially therefore improving accuracy. Consecutive interpretation is typically what you would request when consulting with clients.

Sight translation

Sight translation is sometimes used by the court and by solicitors where a written document must be translated orally. The interpreter is required to give an oral rendition of the document, often for the benefit of witnesses or a defendant. The interpreter will read aloud a written document in the target language; reading in another language while translating can be challenging as the interpreter must maintain a high level of accuracy.


Top tips for solicitors when communicating through interpreters

Allow the interpreter to introduce themselves

Communicating with clients through an interpreter can feel strange at first, but we have some top tips to help you get the most out of using an interpreter.

At the beginning of each session, allow time for the interpreter to explain their role to your client and perform some comprehension checks. This can help all parties to understand their roles and help the session run smoothly.

Be mindful of how you speak

You should speak in full sentences, but try to keep sentences short. Speak clearly, but in a normal tone and pace and try to avoid the use of metaphors, acronyms, slang or idioms if possible. You should also advise your client to do the same. Short sentences and clear speaking can help improve the accuracy of interpreting. You should also be aware of difficult conversation points such as switching topics suddenly or needing to explain something at length. These types of things often lead solicitors to forget that they should be speaking in short sentences.

Connect with your client directly

Make sure you are offering the same level of service as you would to any other client. You should speak directly to the client ‘Could you please tell me how” rather than asking through the interpreter “Could you ask them to tell me about”. The interpreter is there to interpret and provide understanding, but are not a party in the conversation.

Don’t worry about the conversation between client and interpreter

Sometimes the length of the conversation in the other language can seem like it doesn’t match up to what you have said or been asked, but this is perfectly normal. The interpreter and your client may need to clarify meaning or explain linguistic terms between themselves, similarly an interpreter may also ask you for clarification on something also – this is acceptable and avoids the potential of misinterpretation. You can ask the interpreter what was said, and you are entitled to know the full extent of the conversation.

Contact IMD Legal Translation for High-Quality Legal Interpretation

Our expert interpreters can help your firm to deliver excellence for your clients.

We offer native-speaker understanding with professionalism and reliability. To discuss your specific needs with a member of our team, complete our online contact form, and we will get back to you right away.


Associate News is provided by Legal Futures Associates.
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