Language Barriers and the Law
Client communication is at the heart of the legal sector. However, this can present challenges if you’re representing a client whose first language isn’t the same as yours, or if there’s no common language that you share.
Language services can be especially important in the field of immigration law where language barriers can often be an issue.
How to Overcome Language Barriers with a Client
There are several factors to consider when working around language barriers with a client:
Always take the time to ensure your client has fully understood every communication. This can mean working closely with an interpreter to ask questions twice on your behalf or in slightly different ways to confirm understanding and ensure the right answer.
It’s important to be conscious of the language you’re using. Speaking clearly, slowly, pausing regularly and focusing on the key message with repetition of key words or phrases can help to get your point across more effectively.
Be mindful of the vocabulary you’re using too; for example, ‘can you provide evidence?’ could be changed to ‘do you have any letters or papers to show…?’ to help improve understanding.
Keep an eye on your client’s body language and reactions to what you’re communicating. If they appear shocked or upset by a simple phrase, ask the interpreter to repeat the phrase; if the reaction is still the same, ask the client what their understanding of the phrase is.
Never assume that because a client speaks a particular language that they can also read and write in that language. Follow-up with your client to check that they’ve understood any documents presented to them. If not, consider working with a sight translator to help with the understanding of any written documents.
The Importance of Legal Interpreters
It’s not just a difference in language that can be an issue, but also cultural perspectives on communication methods. It’s therefore vital for interpreters to have a sound cultural awareness of different legal systems around the world, as clients may be familiar with a completely different system to that used in the UK.
Not all legal terms will have a direct translation in other languages, so these may need to be worked around, which is why it’s so important to work with an experienced translator or interpreter.
Interpreters working in a courtroom setting need to make sure their own prejudices and values don’t seep into their work, with their translations remaining impartial at all times.
There are potentially huge consequences if miscommunication creeps in. Omission of information can affect the entire outcome of a case, whether intentional or otherwise. This means that using the right interpreter with a thorough understanding of the legal lexicon and processes ensures a fair trial.
Utilising professional language services plays a key role in effective client communication. With successful communication comes better client service, which can even mean an improved win rate.
When to use Interpreting and Translation Services in a Legal Setting
Interpreting services can be required in court proceedings, including during trials, and they can be integral during interviews between a client and the police. Meanwhile, translation services can be used for everything from case files to evidence and from certifications to day-to-day client communication.
Consider using the services of an interpreter or translator for:
- Initial client meetings/assessments
- Any follow-up calls with your client
- Documents that the client will see
- In court proceedings
- Translation of evidence and other documents
- Any meetings with external parties
- The provision of video evidence
How Language Connect Can Help
At Language Connect, we use our national database to source professional, qualified and specialist interpreters and translators for our legal clients, drawing on our global network of linguists.
To find out more, contact our legal interpreting team at email@example.com.