Opening Statements

Lost in Translation

The United States may be a vast melting pot of cultures, races and ethnicities, but that doesn’t mean that lawyers have an easy time getting translation services, especially if they are in need of a translator who speaks something other than Spanish. So what’s a lawyer to do if a client speaks only Azeri?

It takes a village

While helping a pro bono cli­ent from Eritrea seek asy­lum, Thomas Maas of Katten Muchin Rosen­man in Chicago needed Tigrinyan-speaking translators to help certify documents for a reasonable rate.

What’s a lawyer to do?

Maas assembled a team: a librarian, her husband, a cab driver and a college professor. And it’s a good thing he had the team. The librarian stopped one session for a lengthy personal call; the cabbie refused to translate some documents, claiming it was the librarian’s job; and the librarian’s husband agreed to fill in for a fee, but refused to reveal what it would be. The professor, a relative of the client’s, translated the documents for free—but still complains about not getting paid.

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You say tomato, I say tomahto

Even when English is the common language, it doesn’t mean everyone is saying the same thing, according to Claudia Salomon, co-head of DLA Piper’s international arbitration group in New York City. In an ongoing case that spreads between the firm’s New York and London offices, Salomon found that firm lawyers couldn’t stop correcting one another’s grammar and writing styles based on their respective country’s English.

What’s a lawyer to do?

The firm developed an English style guide.

Doh! I should have asked first

While working as a court administrator in a New York City housing court, Lois M. Feuerle needed an interpreter for a civil litigant who spoke Zande. Her first impulse was to call the United Nations, but the area of Sudan where Zande is spoken was under insurgent control at the time and the U.N. Permanent Mission could not help.

What’s a lawyer to do?

Feuerle began calling African studies departments at universities nationwide, human rights groups and even the African Film Festival office. Her three-month search ended with a familiar face. When the interpreter began reviewing the court documents, he said to Feuerle: “This is my sister-in-law!”

I object!

Andy Simpson, a solo prac­titioner in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, thought a deposition of his client—a Filipino national who was a material witness to an oil spill—would proceed smoothly when he found a Tagalog interpreter. But the interpreter’s dialect was so dif­ferent from that of Simpson’s client that communication between the two was virtually impossible. At one point during the deposition, Simpson’s client said to the interpreter in broken English, “That’s not what I said.”

What’s a lawyer to do?

Simpson had to let his client remain detained in St. Croix for eight weeks until an interpreter who spoke the same dialect could be located.

Tongue Ties

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