The Couch

The Couch – Guidance required

The Couch is a learning place, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions. What do you do when you are the victim of unusual practices?


First of all, I want to thank the people who write here on The Couch and those who write the comments too. I imagine others have had a similar experience, but this was a new one. And I really was not sure what to do, so my reaction is surrounded by uncertainties. I really want to know, did I do the right thing? Here is the tale. 

It is midmorning. I am working away in my office, have a commitment in the afternoon (flexible), and plans to clean the house – that is a constant when you have kids! Then the phone rings. The caller ID lets me know it is an agency. Good! We have the usual introductory conversation, then comes the reason for the call: there is an urgent need for a professional with my language combination at the main courthouse NOW. The court does not care for certification, they just need someone who can get there right away, all the usual interpreters are busy. I make myself available. They ask for my rate, I give it to them and they ask me on the spot to accept less. I say no. Two attempts. Two negative responses. And they tell me to get ready, they will send the material right away.

I go change. I am debating whether to actually start going. I mean, they said now. They said they were sending the material. But my gut instinct says to wait. I do. Fifteen minutes later I get another call from them. The court did not approve my rate. I just thank them for letting me know. We hang up.

After all this was said and done, I had a few questions:

cup, green saucer, green, brown and beige table cloth, silver pen and cellphone1- They did tell me to get ready and they were going to send me the material.  That sounds like an agreement to me. Am I entitled to charge a cancellation fee?

2- How do you handle potential clients who come to you as their last hope and demand lower rates? So you charge a rush rate in cases like this?

3- Is there a place we can find information about not what prices to charge, but what to expect from clients, when rush rates apply, how to handle negotiations, how to negotiate terms of services?

I look forward to one more lesson here on The Couch.


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13 Comments
  • Helen Eby
    Posted at 13:29h, 19 October Reply

    I would have thought real confirmation was sending the material. And I would never do business with them again. They should have said:
    Let me check with the client.
    Probably code for:
    Let me see if someone else in my group found a cheaper deal.
    That’s my skeptical brain. They knew their margins when they talked with you.

  • Annie Blackford-McKinney
    Posted at 15:08h, 19 October Reply

    I think they entered into a verbal agreement of terms with you on your rate; however, question lies in whether they were authorized to extend that acceptance of terms.

    If the court first has to authorize that person to negotiate rates and extend offers of acceptance then you may not be able to receive compensation.

  • Uribe
    Posted at 15:32h, 19 October Reply

    Geez, it does sound like unfair representation when they say no need for credentials. That creates cheaper services from those non-certified the Court is willing to accept.. judges should be firm on demanding certified interpreters. We cannot lower our rates unless it fits a special need we are willing to accommodate. Cancellations should be negotiated before hand, ideally. There’s seems to be a need for a unified contract we can all rely on.

  • Josephine Baldwin
    Posted at 17:15h, 19 October Reply

    Good morning/afternoon, Thank you for your query. I understand your frustration and concern. I will attempt to reply to your questions:
    1. Since they called you back fifteen minutes after they initially requested your services, I do not believe a cancellation fee should be charged. You are, of course, free to do so if you wish to, but I do not think it applies in this case. They should have consulted with the Court prior to telling you to rush. Haste makes waste, that is very true, but they did call you back within a reasonable time period.
    2. Clients should not demand. You run your business, and they may “request” a price adjustment, but it seems that in your particular case the Court was not “that desperate” for an interpreter, otherwise they would probably have accepted. As for rush rates, I apply them for translation assignments, not for interpreting.
    3. As for the third point you mention, in my opinion the best thing is to be aware of the trends in the industry, participate in/attend as many professional seminars and webinars as you can, network with other linguists and last but not least, trust your judgment. When something does not feel right or fair, to you or others, refrain from engaging in it.

    I hope this is useful and I wish you a pleasant day!

  • Angela Greenfield
    Posted at 01:27h, 20 October Reply

    First, it is NOT YOUR RATE that the court didn’t accept but the amount that the agency presented to them after putting their margin on top of your rate.
    That is why I don’t work with agencies. They take a fare rate that you give them, add their unfair percentage and make it totally unacceptable for the court.
    Good experience for you of who not to work in the future. :))
    Best of luck with your future assignments!

  • Alfredo Babler
    Posted at 03:50h, 20 October Reply

    Okidoki then, since you put it out there… caveat emptor: There will be some tough love included in this purchase. Here it goes: 1) STOP considering agencies as opportunistic bastards trying to screw you out of your money. They are actuallly working for you; negotiating for you; dealing with the end users for you; you are the agency’s client; they are representing you; they’re vouching for you.
    2) Do not be so proud about being intransigent in your negotiation with agencies. Not being rate-flexible at all is not a medal you get to wear proudly in our industry. It actually tells a lot about a person’s character, business savvy, market awareness, knowledge of the tenets of free market capitalism, and experience or lack thereof. It’s your prerogative to be an equine’s posterior if you choose to be, but don’t expect anybody to believe your lack of common sense means you’re a stick-to-your-guns, savvy entrepreneur. Sorry to bring you down to Earth, but you’re just a tad dense. Court administrators do have budgetary constraints and concerns, and they do negotiate and try to show fiscal prudence. And again, pardon me for being brutally frank with you, but you asked. See, had you been a little more like Mighty Mouse, taken the operator at his/her word, accepted the assignment at a reasonably reduced rate, and gone and SAVED THE DAY, not only would you be richer now, but you could’ve enjoyed the benefits of your flexibility and good business sense for the duration of the case and not for a one time opportunistic bite to the jugular which, incidentally, you didn’t even get to do. Additionally, the agency would look forward to dealing with you again and again, giving you more experience and opening more doors for you. Instead, they’ve gone and filed your CV under Y, for YUK.
    3) The fact that you’re even considering billing somebody for being… uh, I don’t want to be too harsh, or the moderator won’t post this, but use your imagination to fill-in that blank … is mind boggling to me. How about… oh hell NO! Good grief! Honestly? there’s nothing wrong with being assertive, but OMG, why do you think you deserve anything but disdain, let alone money from the agency after all that? They called you in 15 minutes to tell you you’re too rich for reality, for Pete’s sake, and considering your… eh, overal (insert expletive adjective) demeano.., unfreakingbelievable! Again, you just blow my mind, but in like a load of buckshot way, not a good way. Wow!
    Listen, I don’t mean to make you feel bad or anything. I promise. I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years. I know a thing or two about this business. Remember, the agency represents you. They’re not your enemy or a blood bag for you to latch on like a Florida skeeter every chance you get. Keep an open mind. God bless. Hope that helped. Oh, did I mention… WOW! LOL

    • Gio Lester
      Posted at 17:27h, 22 October Reply

      Alfred, I disagree with you in so many points. One is your language and tone. Rude.

      As to your points…
      [1] the colleague who wrote did not say anything negative about the agency, so where do you take it that s/he thinks the agency is trying to take advantage of him/her?

      [2] being a freelancer means you set your rates. Being smart means you use rates the market can bear. Since we do not know what (a) our colleague’s language pair is, (b) what the rates offered/countered were, (c) what was the reason for our colleague’s position, you have no basis for your argument.

      [3] I do not even know how to interpret your rant here. So, no counter.

      I have been in this business for over 38 years and I still do not know all the reasons people react the way they do or do business the way they do. There’s plenty of room for learning. Your years in the market mean nothing if you do not know how to use them, especially when someone asks for help.

      You were gratuitously offensive, crass, disrespectful and a few other not so pleasant adjectives I choose to leave out.

      Remember that saying, “If you have nothing positive to say, shut up”? Yup. It would have worked wonders here for you.

  • Alfredo Babler
    Posted at 13:13h, 21 October Reply

    Yeah, totally! You should bill them Time + 1/2 + Would’ve/Could’ve/Might’ve Had To Travel Time + I Didn’t Even Borher To Get Dressed Time + Intransigent Insufferable Time + Me Me Me Time + You Got To Talk To Me Time + Your Great Business Savvy Time! Dang it!

  • Alfredo Babler
    Posted at 22:21h, 22 October Reply

    Oh Ms. Lester, I am so sorry. I did not mean to come through as a gaslighting narcissist. My lying eyes have obviously played tricks on me again. I apologize for that. I thought, evidently mistakenly, that I read this person had refused to negotiate rates twice in a row, and proudly so, that was told the court in question had budget concerns and a negotiation was in order, that he/she didnt even bother to prepare for the assignment, that was called back inside 15 minutes with a cancellation because the non-negotiable rate was not going to cut it, that he/she thinks a bill to the agency is forthcoming after all that, and his/her main concern is whether a rush charge should apply. Obviously, that wasn’t the gist of the situation. My reading and comprehension has gone south and I find myself in these types of embarrassing senior moments, and then I come through as a narcissistic control freak which, I assure you, isn’t my intention at all. I am deeply sorry if I misled anyone and shall restrain myself from providing my misguided lack of common sense, now that you have so aptly corrected me. It’s strikingly obvious that I am a no-good gaslighter, devoid of any sense of reality, blinded by my own self-absorption. I will work on my vapid virtue signaling to myself in my private life from here on out, so I can practice, practice, practice to hopefully one day strive to reach a level of wisdom that can rise above the height of my own ego. I’ll never be like you, the brightest lightbulb in the drawer, but I hope you find it in your heart to forgive my transgression and I hereby submit myself to your selfless, magnanimous, chivalrous and exemplary even keeled guidance in all matters of my comportment and demeanor. I mean it, Ms. Pester. Very truly yours… Obrigado
    Alfredo

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 22:45h, 22 October Reply

    LOL! Can’t deny your sense of humor shines through and, at times, it does mask your rudeness. It did fail you in the comment I replied to earlier.

    It seems you read too much between the lines and made assumptions that fed your undesirable behavior. Lightbulbs don’t have hearts and this one is too busy making sure the other junk in the drawer gets some light, so you should seek forgiveness somewhere else.

    I will take my pestering-self to dinner. It’s that time of the day.

  • Alfredo Babler
    Posted at 23:07h, 22 October Reply

    Oh snap, this iPhone autocorrect feature does the darnest things… 😉
    BON APPÉTIT

  • Janis Palma
    Posted at 19:34h, 28 October Reply

    I totally agree with Josephine Baldwin: great advice. Having a contract ready to “fill in the blanks” and email to the client right away should take care of most issues, such as your rates and cancellation policy (although charging a cancellation fee when they call you back 15 minutes later seems a bit extreme.) Angela, agencies are businesses and, as such, expect to have a profit margin. There is nothing “unfair” about that. Uribe, there are some languages for which there are (still) no credentials and we do not know this particular interpreter’s language. Furthermore, no one can tell a judge what to do, so whatever we think judges should or should not do is completely outside of our realm of possible influence (unless we can somehow get included in one of their educational conferences.) Gio: good reply to Alfredo. I would not touch that diatribe with a 10-foot pole!

  • Alfredo Babler
    Posted at 04:50h, 01 November Reply

    Guys, I’m just busting chops. Ask my wife. Seriously, I’m the quintessential rompe pelotas, but I don’t mean to diatribe (or to turn a noun into a verb either). It just happens. I just grab the phone and start clickety-clackety with two thumbs at the qwerty like a millennial that missed his daily dose of Ritalin and my subconscious ends up plastered on this blog. In my defense though, I very much self-diatribed… uh, myself there as well… LOL
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=67E42LQsU24

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