Attorney Serving as His Client’s Interpreter and Legal Malpractice: A Case Example

Bilingual attorneys are often tempted to provide foreign language translation and even courtroom translation and interpreting services for their non-English-speaking clients. But is it prudent? The following facts apply to this case example:

Prior to trial, an attorney was ordered to provide a Norwegian interpreter for any hearing at which language would be an issue. During trial, the attorney failed to provide an official Norwegian interpreter for his witness’s testimony. Instead, the attorney personally provided the interpretation of the testimony, along with all foreign language documents as the attorney himself had Norwegian language skills. However, the client later testified he felt confused about the court proceeding, a claim in which the malpractice suit was brought.

In its decision, the Attorney Disciplinary Board held the attorney’s failure to provide a foreign language interpreter itself was not in violation of any ethical duties. However, his failure to obey the court order to provide an official foreign language interpreter and foreign language translation of all documents was in violation of his duty to the Court.

See Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Erling Rolf Krosby, No. 125 DB 2003 (Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania).

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