What to Expect at a Deposition: Interpreting

When I (Judy) first became a certified court interpreter, the biggest challenge I encountered wasn’t one of terminology, but one of procedure. Even though my home office is well-stocked with fantastic dictionaries and resources about the American and Mexican legal systems, civil procedure and textbooks, and I’ve taken classes in criminal and civil procedure, I was never quite sure what to expect during the many types of legal situations for which I interpret. I had a hard time, for instance, finding out exactly how civil depositions are conducted. I looked high and low, and found limited information, so I learned it by doing it. Perhaps there is a resource out there that I am not familiar with (please let me know if there is, dear readers!) that explains the processes well, but I wanted to share my informal (and by no means exhaustive) list of procedural structure with you.
Ready to interpret!

  • Most of the civil cases for which I’ve interpreted during depositions revolve around either car accidents or some type of personal injury (think slip and fall). There are also many others, such as construction defect. Most depositions last 1-2 hours.
  • Depositions are usually held at law offices, either at the office of the plaintiff’s or the defendant’s attorney. There are usually at least five parties present: deponent, his or her counsel, opposing counsel, court reporter and the interpreter. Complex cases with multiple plaintiffs and defendants can have up to a dozen people in the room.
  • In general, the party or law firm who requested the deposition will pay (this is very important with direct clients, so be sure to clear this up beforehand). Be sure to get the case name and the deponent’s name for invoicing purposes.
  • Court reporters will be present at all depositions. They are taking down the record in English only, so your interpretation into English will become part of the official record. Be sure to sit next to the court reporter so she can hear you (I’ve never met a male court reporter). The deponent should sit next to you on your other side, and his or her counsel will be seated on the next chair. The opposing counsel will traditionally sit across the table in a typical conference room setting.
  • The court reporter will swear you in. Be sure not to agree to “faithfully translate.” As annoying as it might be, I always correct the record to reflect “interpret.”
  • After that, the court reporter will swear in the deponent. This is when you start interpreting simultaneously.
  • Keep a blank piece of paper handy on which you will jot down difficult names and places for the court reporter, who will have to produce the transcript. I usually write down things like Eulalia, Amecameca, Tuxtla Gutiérrez – generally cities and names that are challenging for non-Spanish speakers to understand.
  • The deposing counsel will introduce him or herself and explain to the deponent how the process works. When interpreting into Spanish (or any other language) for the deponent, I usually lean close to the deponent and speak in a softer voice so I don’t disrupt the court reporter, who is taking down the English for the record. When interpreting into English, I speak up so the court reporter can hear me. Portable interpreting equipment is traditionally not used in depositions.
  • Attorneys love to object to each other’s questions. Unfortunately—and they obviously know this—there is no judge to issue a ruling on the objection. They are just trying to get on the record with their objection, and you must interpret the objection, which can be confusing for the deponent. Usually, their counsel will instruct them if they should answer the question or not. Attorneys will also say things like: “For the record, I think defense counsel is being unreasonable,” which you must also interpret.
Part two of this series will follow next month. I hope this information has helped you gain some insight into what’s ahead if you get called to interpret at a deposition. If you have anything you would like to share: please do so by leaving a comment. 


Fabio Said on August 6, 2012 at 9:39 AM said...

Great post, Judy! Maybe some day you will write a book about court interpreting... :-)

By the way, I am looking forward to your session at the next ATA conference, Austriacisms for Beginners. I will make sure to bring some questions, as I occasionally translate Austrian legal documents that make Austria look like another planet when compared to Germany. :-)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on August 6, 2012 at 12:46 PM said...

Fabio: my pleasure! Thanks for the comment. Another book? Oh my; but it really is a great idea. :)

Looking forward to seeing you at our presentation, but FYI and just to make sure you are not disappointed, we won't be going into too much legal detail. We are trying to keep it general/fun so it's accessible everyone in the GLD and not just to the legal folks. That said, there will be some legal terms (we are finalizing the presentation now), but we will focus on terms that you might be able to see in any kind of document that are very Austrian. Of course feel free to bring your questions: we hope we can answer them! :) If not, we will look them up for you. And yes, you gotta love the Austrians and their hilarious terms.

Karin BauchRowitz said...

Judy, excellent advice.
I would like to add what I usually do.
I have to swear in the deponent and have the text always with me.
I introduce myself immediately to the Court Reporter, give her my card and ask to be seated next to her. During the last jobs, I could always read on her screen the questions, the entire dialogue and also see problems or typos and help her with that.
Sitting next to her means that you, if you didn't hear the sentence or not all of it, you just read it on her screen.
I prepare myself as much as possible and ask for all documents to be sent beforehand.
I type a list of all involved parties and give a copy to the court reporter.
I ask my client what the objective is, what are they aiming at, so that I understand exactly what this is all about.
I make sure I do not mingle with "the other side".

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on August 22, 2012 at 12:19 PM said...

@Karin: thanks for commenting and for adding all these useful tips! Great stuff. Interesting that you can read the text off the court reporter's screen. The reporters here in Nevada type in short hand, and it doesn't appear as "real" text on their screen yet, as they transcribe it at a later point. Also great idea to ask for any documents ahead of time, but in my experience, that never happens. :) I am lucky if I get the caption with the parties' names on it!

Joshua M. Goldberg on September 11, 2012 at 8:20 AM said...

I've found over time that some Court Reporters prefer to have the Witness between them and the Interpreter, so that the Interpreter ends up facing the Court Reporter. Others prefer having the Interpreter sitting next to them. Now I always ask the Court Reporter what her/his preference is before we start.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on September 11, 2012 at 12:10 PM said...

@Joshua: Thanks for the comment and good point! It also depends on the shape of the table (sound, rectangular). Asking the court reporter is an excellent idea indeed. Thanks for the great insight. Sounds like you have done plenty of depositions yourself!

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