Lasting Lessons From My First Deposition

By Gio Lester ©2016

It was the early 1990’s. I was called to interpret at a deposition and I explained to the agency representative on the phone that I had never done a deposition before. “It is like an interview. You know how to take notes, right? It is that easy.” That was it. So, to confirm what I was told, I called a friend who had more experience. Again, I was told “it is easy,” “you know the vocabulary,” “keep it in the first person,” “nothing to worry about.” Ok. I was good to go.

Things started going badly at the first “Objection.” I asked what I had said that was wrong.

Yeah, continue reading when you stop laughing. And things just got worse from there. I had no idea of the formalities, what I was supposed to be interpreting (I thought that I only interpreted what was directed to the deponent and his replies). I didn’t even know the proper procedure for asking for clarification. I was clueless, and a headache for the court reporter.

Court reporter

Courtesy of Florida Court Reporting

Everyone had been right with the assertion that the vocabulary was easy, that the interview scenario was easy. But everyone had been wrong as to the process being easy. It was complex. I did not know the full extent of my role, what my job actually entailed, my responsibilities in the room and outside of it, or how to be a good deposition interpreter.

The court reporter was livid. She was so mad at me. And rightfully so. She held no punches once we were alone. But I did not fold. Instead, I asked for her help, after all, they were coming back after lunch, they were not going to request another interpreter, and since she knew what I had to do, she could help me help her. Those were precious 30 minutes in my career.

We parted with respect for each other: by being humble and asking for help instead of arguing with her, I had given the court reporter a chance to control the situation; by sharing her knowledge with me, she helped shape a new professional. And I learned that conflicts can have resolutions which benefit all parties

Since that fateful deposition, I have taken many courses, workshops, and training classes. I have to thank Diane Teichman for some especially helpful hints she gave during a training in Florida.

Unfortunately, I have since lost that court reporter’s contact, but she is responsible for the high regard I have for my professional reputation and my clients. That was not the best way for me to learn the ropes, but those are the lessons that stay with one forever.

21 thoughts on “Lasting Lessons From My First Deposition”

  1. Massin Maatouq says:

    Amazing story…some conflicts turn into positive results..if it was not for that lady ,you wouldn’t shape and hone your skills as a Court Interpreter.

    1. GLester says:

      Actually, I am still working on that. Took a detour into conference and medical interpreting. I will be working with more focus on becoming a court interpreter this year. A dear colleague arranged for me to attend some hearings at the Federal Court here in Miami, and I need to observe some more hearings still.

      But, yes, I am very grateful to that court reporter.

  2. What a great story! Thank you for sharing — I believe court reporters are interpreters’ friends. They are usually very helpful and resourceful.

    1. GLester says:

      Indeed, they are! I am glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Rana Raad says:

    Great lesson to learn. Nothing is easy in our profession. We should be prepared all the time. Continuous education, trainings, workshops, and forums are extremely important to developing our interpretation skills.
    Excellent article .
    Thank you

    1. GLester says:

      You are so right! The reason the agency contacted me was a lack of T&I professionals working with Brazilian Portuguese at the time. We were about 6 and it was vacation time, so many were traveling. Thank you for your kind words.

  4. Ricardo Eva says:

    Dear Gio…Welcome to the “enlightening” and always changing world of depositions!!! As you, my first deposition, now many, many years ago, was a doozy…our LEP witnesses, around 15 of them, kept becoming mute in middle of the questions, merely assinting or negating with head gestures or, when asked to identify pictures, they´d just point out the ones they recognized without uttering a word!! This went on all day long and the court reporter, of course, kept becoming growingly desperate because, of course, she´s not supposed to record gestures, only words. Finally, I took it upon myself to ask the attorneys present to instruct the witnesses to speak instead of only mimic, all the attorneys stared at me as if they had no clue of what I was asking for or if I was a strange creature just beamed down to earth!!! Finally, I had to start interrupting whenever the LEP witnesses became mute with the line “This is the interpreter speaking…please note that the witness is pointing out to picture identified as evidence no. or letter….” and “This is the interpreter speaking, please note that the witness is gesturing assint, or negation with their head (or hands…)” Finally the reporter was happy and the attorneys, who of course made so much more money than we, the lowly interpreters, were ecstatic at having a lot of work taken off of their hands!!!…

    1. GLester says:

      Oh, Ricardo! I have been there too. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to remind attorneys to properly instruct deponents. Always politely, but I don’t think it should be my job or the court reporter’s, but…

      I am glad you related to the story. Thanks.

  5. Di Clark says:

    Thanks for sharing this “beginner” story, which to me stresses the importance of (a) not being afraid to plunge into the unknown but with a humble heart and (b) the value of “shadowing” which works in other jobs – too bad this doesn’t seem to be available, specifically for interpreting depositions. To share my own embarrassing depo beginner story, I managed luckily to keep my mouth shut when the lawyer in charge told me upon arrival that there would also be a Czech interpreter present … you of course are not baffled but I was at the (wildly mistaken) notion of having two languages at the same depo. A second French interpreter arrived to CHECK me and we enjoyed working together that day – and that BTW has since been my experience when working as or with a check interpreter, it is not an adversarial but a collaborative effort. And I welcome this chance to state my immense admiration for court reporters, I never cease to be impressed by their skill and professionalism. I always note foreign spellings and since I am usually reading the depo transcript as it emerges on a monitor, I note any minor corrections to share with the reporter during breaks. That too is a fruitful collaboration.

    1. GLester says:

      I took a plunge, alright. Just did not know how far deep it went… That court reporter has no idea how much she influenced my work as an advocate for the profession.

      As for “Czech” interpreters, many lawyers have actually brought Brazilian Portuguese speaking clerks or lawyers to some of the depositions to observe and correct. The deposition process in Brazil is very different. Subject for another post.

      Glad you enjoyed it, Di Clark.

  6. Armando Ezquerra Hasbun says:

    Gio, the candor and generosity in sharing this anecdote should be as useful to those starting on the profession as the most advanced technical advice.
    Thank you for reaching out to the many waves of beginners who are in the process of finding their strengths and limitations.

    1. GLester says:

      I am glad I remembered how to be a student when the opportunity presented itself. Many times fear of negative outcomes prevents us from making the right decisions. I just knew I owed the court reporter, the agency, the attorneys and the deponent my very best and I had failed them. I had to seize the opportunity to fix things.

      Sometimes the only way to come clean on the other end is to go through the battle and fight your demons. Mine were lack of training, the greed of the agency and the misguided “kindness” of my friend.

      Thanks, Armando!

  7. A very strong recommendation: cooperate closely with those court reporters. Their job is in some ways similar to ours (and just as underrated). I always insist on sitting diagonally behind the court interpreter. It allows me to glance at the CR’s screen when consecutively interpreting, in order to see what the exact phrasing of a question had been – this can be very helpful. And in return, when the witness gives names of people, addresses, or other proper nouns, I write it down and show it to the CR, so they will no what to put in. It saves them lots of time afterwards.

    Making on-the-record comments about a witness’ hand or head gestures (and EVERY comment is on the record) is a no-no, in my book. Thats the attorney’s job. An experienced attorney will insit on verbal answers and will ask for reconfirmation if a non-verbal answer is given (“Are you pointing at image #6?”), and if he doesn’t, it’s his loss. The opposing attorney may justly refuse to proceed with an interpreter who is volunteering such “help”. Moreover, what if you say the witness was pointing at image 6, and the witness later says he was actually pointing at image #4? It’s highly unprofessional.

    1. Gio Lester says:

      [See below]

  8. GLester says:

    To your first recommendation I say, Always! I don’t always get to sit behind them, but in Miami many agencies now bring an extra iPad for the benefit of the interpreter -how chic is that?

    Regarding on-the-record comments about non verbal answers, I stubbornly repeat “here, here, here and here” as many times as the deponent does, usually looking directly at the attorney to see if he catches the drift. Usually the court reporter will complain and the attorney will do his/her job.

    I have seen incredible things here in Florida. One attorney brought his dog to the deposition without forewarning opposing counsel. Can you imagine what took place???

  9. Hi!
    Even though I was federally certified at the time of my first deposition I found the rules of the game to be much different from in-court interpreting and I too had a couple of hard lessons to learn. Your advice to get the court reporter on your side is right on target, thanks so much!

    1. GLester says:

      Right, Georganne. So I am transitioning into court interpreting slowly.

  10. Ana M. La Shier says:

    Hello, today was my first deposition. I hardly slept last night thinking of it and wondering whether or not I was well prepared. When I arrived at the attorney’s office I met the court reported, a very nice lady. After a little conversation I humblingly requested her help. At the end of the deposition she also gave me some valuable pointers. I am still recovering from the experience which felt a little intimidating but, looking forward to the next opportunity to do another one. This time more secure of myself.
    Very thankful for this article which I happened to read a couple of days ago and to the nice court reporter.

    1. GLester says:

      Your message made my heart sing! My experience was not in vain. Cool. Welcome to a very exciting world!

  11. Sylvie S says:

    I would have enjoined reading the specific pointers she gave you,

    1. Gio Lester says:

      Sylvie, she shared with me what every court reporter who gets proper training already knows:
      – when the lawyer says I object, s/he is not talking to you
      – interpret everything that is said
      – go into simultaneous to the client when the lawyers start talking to each other
      – spell out difficult words
      – have a clean copy of your notes for the court reporter
      – enunciate clearly and loud enough for the court reporter to hear

      That type of stuff that I did not know.

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