Interpreter or Assistant? Hire the Interpreter!
When a client’s ability to speak and understand English is in doubt, one must decide whether an interpreter should be used at a mediation. It is not the mediator’s decision, nor is the mediator required to provide interpreting services. The lawyer representing the client must make this decision. If it is believed that an interpreter would be beneficial, then often the next decision a lawyer must make is whether to use a professional interpreter or an employee that can act as an interpreter.
I am unaware of any rule or law that guides these issues other than the general requirement that the parties can understand and meaningfully participate in the mediation process. If a mediator does not believe that a party has such capacity, then the mediator should terminate the mediation.
I am a great believer in using professional interpreters. First, from a liability standpoint, the professional interpreter can help shield the lawyer from a disgruntled client who later claims they did not understand what happened at the mediation. Second, a professional interpreter can usually do a simultaneous interpretation, meaning that they mute themself on screen (so no one else can hear them) and interpret through a cell phone call to the party needing the interpretation. There is no need to stop and pause after a sentence or two to allow the interpretation. Most amateur interpreters cannot do this.
I understand that the cost of hiring an interpreter is often a factor in whether to hire a professional interpreter. Lawyers and clients want to keep the costs of litigation to a minimum. However, think about this: if the mediator and lawyers must stop and wait for their words to be interpreted, it adds more time to the mediation. That adds to the cost of litigation. A professional interpreter’s time is billed at an hourly rate much below the mediator and lawyers, so any additional cost for the interpreter is generally outweighed by the increased cost of the mediator and lawyers. In the end, hiring a professional interpreter can end up saving the parties money.