Protecting Privilege with Legal Interpreters

Professional Legal Interpreters Protect Attorney-Client Privilege

Professional legal translators and court interpreters play an important role not only in cross-cultural court depositions but also in pre-deposition meetings and attorney-client conferences. The legal concept of privilege is at the foundation of the legal system – and also an area ripe for malpractice suits.

Needless to say, attorneys are often cautious when allowing any third party to provide legal document translation and legal interpretation services. Yet when dealing with a client who is a non-native English speaker, bringing in a foreign language interpreter is a necessity. In fact, failure to do so could constitute malpractice!

The key legal point in this situation is that, according to case law, the foreign language interpreter is acting as the agent of the attorney (United States v. Kovel). Specifically, the courts hold that the interpreter’s presence in an attorney client communication does not constitute a waiver to privilege because the interpreter’s role was primarily to facilitate the attorney-client communication, as opposed to providing interpreting services for other reasons.

However, that being said, it is the attorney’s duty to property monitor the foreign language interpreter, with ethical obligations placing primary responsibility for preserving privilege on the attorney. The key test is to determine whether or not the interpreter’s role is ‘necessary, or at least highly useful’ to the client’s ability to receive informed legal advice. If so, then privilege should be preserved.

Contact our legal translation firm to retain a qualified Japanese deposition interpreter, Korean deposition interpreter, Russian deposition interpreter, or other language interpreters for your pre-deposition meeting or an international deposition.


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