A Bilingual Attorney Serving as the Interpreter- Ethical Considerations

Legal Translation Services by Bilingual Attorneys

As more and more minorities are becoming attorneys, some bilingual attorneys may choose to also act as a foreign language interpreter for their foreign-born client. The thinking is that since their language skills are sufficient, they can save the court time and their client money by doubling up as a court interpreter. However, acting as both the attorney and the interpreter for your client raises numerous ethical questions.

For example:

  • What happens to the attorney-client privilege when the attorney is acting in the role of a foreign language interpreter?
  • When the attorney is acting as an attorney, who is interpreting for the client?
  • When the attorney is interpreting, who is representing the interest of the client?
  • Is being bilingual enough for an attorney to act as a foreign language interpreter? Or does the attorney also have to satisfy court requirements for being a qualified foreign language interpreter?

Surprisingly, the courts are relatively divided on this issue, with some holding that an attorney can simultaneously act as a foreign language interpreter while other courts hold that such double duty is an ethical violation. Briones v. Texas, 595 S.W.2d 546 (Texas, 1980) and State v. Zambrano, Lexis 3951 (Ohio App. 1989) holding an attorney’s bilingual competence is adequate to protect the client’s interest. Giraldo-Rincon v. Dugger, 707 F.Sup. 504 (M.D. Florida 1989) and State v. Kounelis, 258 N.J. Super 420 (New Jersey 1992) holding that an attorney acting as both an attorney and foreign language interpreter is an ethical violation.

Regardless, it follows that acting as both an attorney and a foreign language interpreter opens the door to unneeded ethic complaints and malpractice suits.

In order to best protect your professional credibility and the interest of your foreign client, it is highly recommended all foreign language court interpreting be conducted through a professional foreign language interpreter.

Contact our professional translation service to retain professional court interpreters for government debriefings, depositions, hearings, IMEs, settlement conferences, mediation, arbitrations, and trials, as well as for live, print, and written translations.

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