Interpreting depositions via Zoom

It's been a while since we have posted, and we hope you forgive us. After more than 10 years and 500+ blog posts, we'd run out of ideas a bit, and there are now so many other excellent blogs for translators and interpreters that we thought we'd take a break. But now that we are in lockdown due to COVID-19, we have some new ideas for topical issues. Today's topic is about interpreting depositions via Zoom and whether that's possible and how it all works. Here's Judy's experience from the United States, where she's a court-certified (Nevada, California, federal) Spanish interpreter and a veteran of more than 1,500 depositions. Please note that depositions seem to be unique to the U.S. legal system, but this information is still useful for other types of proceedings that now have to be interpreted remotely. 

We'd love it if this blog post could serve as a repository for information and tips on how to best interpret via Zoom, so please share your comments below. Please note that this blog post is not about interpreting using Zoom's simultaneous interpreting function, as we have not yet tested it and clients haven't requested it. For better or for worse, this is about consecutive interpreting via Zoom. 

My set-up. Yes, I cleaned my desk for you.

The basics
It took clients, mainly law firms and court reporting firms, a few weeks to get systems set up to hold depositions remotely. Most of my clients use Zoom or Remote Counsel that also runs on Zoom. I did my first depositions via Zoom in mid-March and have been doing one a week or so since then.

  • Download Zoom. If you have never used Zoom before, make sure you download the software here. It's super quick and easy, but it's your responsibility to make sure everything works. If you need tech support, consider hiring someone to help (remote, of course). If you don't know your way around Zoom, be sure to watch a quick tutorial. First order of business: locate the "mute" button and remember that you are on camera unless you switch it off. You don't want to make news like this one (humor is much needed these days). You may have read about some Zoome privacy issues in the last month or so, and our friends Alex Drechsel and Josh Goldsmith over at techforword have a great summary here
  • Basic computer set-up. Many interpreters have never done any sort of remote work, and that's of course absolutely fine. If you are ready to take remote work during this crisis (and now that in-person work is basiscally non-existent), make sure you have the basic set-up. You don't need much other than a computer and a camera (most laptops have an integrated camera). If you use a desktop computer, you can purchase an inexpensive external video camera. I also have a small cover for the camera so I can slide the cover into the closed position on my laptop when I am not using it (for privacy reasons). Mine is similar to this one. Make sure you have a quiet space to work, even though I know this can be a challenge these days. I have a dedicated home office and I put my dogs away before starting as they love, love, love to bark at inconvenient times.
  • Headset. In order to have good incoming and outgoing audio, you should wear a headset (the other option is a good free-standing mic, but most won't have that). I use an older model of this Jabra that I purchased years ago to do RSI (remote simultaneous interpreting) and it's served me well. Our lovely colleague Alex Drechsel has an amazing blog post on headsets here (a must-read). In addition, Tamber Hilton did excellent video reviews of headsets for both Mac and PC. I'm currently thinking about upgrading my headset because I want integrated hearing protection (such as PreservEar) to prevent acoustic shock, and I am currently exploring options. We will report on this journey in another blog post.
    They really wanted to stay, but no!
Ready, set, go!
Image credit: Canva
  • Who's in charge of tech issues? Some of our clients, mainly court reporting firms, have put together handy informational sheets on how to best use Zoom and how to guarantee audio quality. This usually gets sent to all parties, but not everyone follows these suggestions. Other times, individual lawyers have contacted us asking for help because they've never done this before. We usually say that it's ideal that all parties use Zoom online (computer or mobile devices) rather than calling in, which is unfortunately also an option that makes for bad audio and no video. We don't like to make things too complicated for clients who may be overwhelmed by this process, but we emphasize that it's ideal if all parties wear a headset and to avoid cell phones that get put on speakerphone (I've had to make that work, too). None of my assignments have gone so badly that we've had to log off, but some have been tough. In general, I'd say that everyone is in charge of their own tech, but you can't interpret what you can't hear, so if the audio quality is poor, you must speak up. The court reporter will want that, too, but she/he will usually have the added benefit of a recording, while you need to make it work in real time.
  • Identify yourself. I recently took a fantastic webinar with Steven Mines about interpreting via Zoom, and I learned that you can change your default name in Zoom (by right-clicking on your name, instructions are here). This is great because I add "interpreter" in front of my name so everyone easily knows who I am. So now I am "Interpreter Judy Jenner."
  • Ask participants to speak one at a time. For those of you who have done quite a few depositions, you know that this is a challenge. I've rarely been in one where people DON'T talk over each other. This has been surprisingly better when doing depositions remotely, but it's a good idea to briefly remind the parties before you start that speaking one at a time is crucial. Ask the attorneys for their permission to communicate the same thing to the deponent in the other language.
  • Consecutive only (but there is a simul function in Zoom). Yes, we know: In most depositions, we whisper interpret the question into the deponent's ear and do sim-consec or straight short consec for the responses (preferences vary; but that tends to be the method that most interpreters and attorneys favor). Online you will have to do everything in consecutive mode, which is quite a challenge for those of us who don't do a lot of long consecutive. Some deponents are long-winded, but in person they will make natural pauses to allow you to interpret. In may experience that hasn't been the case much online. I've realized that I go through a lot of paper (I used recycled paper) and that my note-taking technique is average at best, which is why I've signed up for an AIIC course with David Violet this coming Saturday (held via Zoom!). If you are a bit hestiant to do consecutive, you might want to practice first using Speechpool videos (among other fantastic resources).
  • All the normal rules and the codes of ethics still apply. The setting will be more informal because you are at home, but the rules are the same. Arrive early (I still shoot for 15 minutes and hear crickets for most of the time, but it's always good to be early!) and well prepared. Have water, paper, pens, etc. nearby. Dress appropriately. Interpret in the first person and when you speak to ask for repetition, use the third person. You all know the drill, but sometimes it's good to remind yourself of the basics. Ask for breaks if you need one -- just like in real life, it's unreasonable to go for three hours without a break.
  • Team interpreting. Unfortunately, I have yet to do team interpreting for any deposition, ever. I work mostly in Nevada and we sadly haven't been able to convince clients that team interpreting is the standard. Now we have the chance to do it with online depositions, which are indeed more exhausting than in-person events. I've brought this up to several clients and have made a case for team interpreting while also presenting the great argument that having two interpreters online is ideal in case one has tech problems. No one has agreed to this yet, but I will keep on asking. In accordance with best practices and recommendations from all leading T&I associations, we really should only interpret 30 minutes at a time before switching with a partner, which can, by the way, be more of a challenge online.
    Time is always an issue. Image credit: Canva.
  • Same or increased rates. This is not the time to lower your rate -- quite the contrary. It might be a good idea to increase your rate a bit to reflect the extra tech effort and cognitive load that's part of interpreting online. I know it is tempting to reduce your rate now that you have less work, but I strongly advise against it. Of course you should also enforce your usual cancellation rules. I've had several depositions cancel at the last minute and I've always been able to enforce my 24-hour cancellation policy.
  • Unexpected. During in-person assignments, you don't have time to look up terminology (unless it's during a break), but turns out that in spite of the additional cognitive load, I did have the time to briefly double-check a term or two during the assignment, which was something I didn't expect. I have many fantastic online versions of dictionaries installed and also via subscription, and the one I use the most is Wordfinder (fee-based) as it allows me to search across many different resources at the same time.
Final impressions (for now)
Even though I've had some audio issues, including a deponent who was clearly outside on a cell phone speaker phone in what sounded like heavy traffic and having to rip my headset off my head a few times when high-pitched noises came out of nowhere, my experiences interpreting depositions via Zoom have been mainly very positive. I was afraid of how we'd handle exhibits and sight translation, because when interpreting in-person you usually get a copy of the document you are asked to sight-translate and that can't be easily done via Zoom unless someone puts the electronic document in the chat box, but it seems that most attorneys have adapted their process and I haven't seen many exhibits. Of course the worst-case scenario is for an attorney to read from a complicated document that you don't have in front of you and you having to take detailed notes to interpret that for the deponent. This could be very, very tough, but I haven't come across that situation yet. Something I also really like about interpreting depositions via Zoom is that I don't have to drive anywhere, which usually decreases my hourly rate as here in Nevada we usually don't bill for driving time. So I'd say that my hourly rate is now higher when you strip out the time for driving, which is a great thing. Overall, there are of course drawbacks to interpreting via Zoom, but I am grateful that it exists as an alternative. This blog post isn't meant to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but we hope you find this information useful if you are considering taking some of these assignments.

As we mentioned before, please do share your ideas, experiences, tips, tricks, and best practices below. We'd very much like for this blog post to serve as a reference point for what we've all learned about deposition interpreting via Zoom in the times of COVID-19. There have been excellent discussions about this on Twitter, but a blog post is a bit more permanent and easier to read. Speaking of reading: thanks for reading!
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