If you or a family member doesn't feel comfortable speaking in English, communicating with a trial attorney can be a headache. And even if you are fairly comfortable, it may still be hard to understand one another through legal jargon. Read on to learn how you can communicate more effectively.
1. Look at Schools to Find Lawyers Who Speak Your Language
Thankfully, more and more firms are realizing that being bilingual can really expand a practice to niche markets. However, some firms may not readily advertise these services, so you might as well go to the source of their skills: schools with an emphasis on language training.
For instance, at the California Western School of Law in San Diego, they sponsor a foreign-language center abroad that not only focuses on translation, but that teaches students about nuance, usage, slang, and so forth. In short, if you need to find an attorney that speaks a foreign language, visit local universities and talk with law professors who emphasize foreign language work. They can direct you to the correct firms in your area.
2. Choose a Translator or an Interpreter
If a bilingual lawyer isn't available to you, the next best thing is a translator or an interpreter. However, while those terms are often used interchangeably, both serve very different functions.
If you need to understand the spoken word—this includes everything from in-court testimony, depositions, medical exams under oath, business concerns, etc.—then you need an interpreter. If you only need someone to clarify a document (prenuptial agreement, litigation, contracts, patents, etc.), then you only need a translator. You may still elect to retain a lawyer, and if that's the case, make sure you hire an interpreter as well.
Note: If you only need an interpreter for a medical exam, an interpreter should be provided for you by that facility. This ensures both accuracy (for testimony) and patient confidentiality.
3. Be a Considerate Interviewee
Even though your interpreter will be able to help you communicate with your lawyer, there are some things you can do to make this process easier:
First, make sure you are maintaining eye contact and talking to the lawyer rather than the interpreter. This will really help the lawyer read facial cues, body language, and really understand what you're trying to say.
Second, speak as clearly and as simply as you can. Since the interpreter has to switch back and forth between two languages, it is easier than you think for longer sentences to lose their meaning. Even if your interpreter is a native speaker, assume they don't understand slang or figures of speech. Again, those kinds of phrases can be difficult to translate.
Third, take a pause after a couple of sentences so that your interpreter can keep up. If the lawyer asks a question that doesn't seem to fit with what you have just said, don't challenge him or the interpreter. Ask for the question to be rephrased.
Fourth, never speak over anyone else. Since interpretation can be tedious exchange, only the interpreter may speak over each party.
Lastly, Be sure to schedule this interview on a day when you have ample time since it can go longer than expected. Your lawyer may want to review the interview immediately while it's both fresh in your minds. If you are preparing for a trial, then your lawyer may want you to practice your answers quite a few times.
During the review phases, you'll also have a chance to go over an questions that confused or bothered you. Although it may take longer, a direct translation (rather than a summation) may be needed if there are too many communication issues.
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