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The Couch – Guidance required: Should I really bother with contracts?

The Couch is a learning place, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions. This time contracts are in question. How important are they really?


black and silver pen resting on top of a sheet of paper with the word Contract on it.You can call me a novice. I have been “working” in this profession for less than three years. Mostly, I am still learning.  I like to read this blog because of the questions people ask and because the answers they get help me. It’s like a course in a capsule. Quick.

Now that I am getting ready to really go and become a professional, I am wondering about things such as contracts. Never bothered to really read them, but got kind of scared reading one of your articles about contract language. The wording in contracts is so complex that at times I have to read the same sentence three times… What should I be looking for in a contract? What should I demand in a contract? Should I have my own contract? These are some of the questions I have.

Ah, for now, I am only doing translations. In two years I intend to be also an interpreter. Thank you for publishing my question.


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11 Comments
  • Teresa Roman
    Posted at 16:36h, 16 August Reply

    Yes, you should. I recommend translating the longest contract you have ever signed, as a case study for yourself. You will read the language in a totally different way. You will see where there may be ambiguity, things that are unfair will jump at you, things you had not thought of will amaze you, etc.
    I have heard many colleagues complain about assignments, terms, or fees during breaks on the interpreting job, when there is nothing you can do. You can complain, or rather negotiate better terms, BEFORE you sign the contract.
    And one last thing, draft a contract that will serve you, so you can sign when you agree to work with someone you don’t know, or who doesn’t have a contract of their own. You can begin with the wording of the one you translated for yourself and adapt it. My contract for depositions, for example, clearly states I expect to receive a check in advance, or on the date, before the deposition begins. For translations, I want clients to sign my contract before I translate one word. If it’s a company, I want them to sign theirs and send it to me before I translate one word. Good luck in the field!!!

  • Carlos Benemann
    Posted at 16:53h, 16 August Reply

    I never sign complex legal language filled long contracts with agencies.
    Funny thing is that eventually most agencies make an exception anyway just to cover their projects
    I also noticed that if they do not give me the assignment because I will not sign their contracts, another agency with more sense and less cumbersome paperwork will have me do the same one anyway.
    I was contacted by an agency yesterday, requiring that I fill the below requirements first. (Note, that was AFTER THEY TRIED TO NEGOTIATE MY FEE DOWN)
    Some of these required steps are either 5 or 6 pages long. My reply is further below:
    REQUIRED STEPS:
    Step 1: Complete the 2019 Vendor Service Agreement Forms <– click here
    Step 2: Complete the 2019 Attestation Forms <– click here
    Step 3: Complete the Vendor Profile Form <– click here
    Step 4: Complete the 2019 Annual Criminal Background Check<– click here
    Step 5 Review Vendor Payment Schedule
    Step 6 Review California Standards for Healthcare Interpreters
    HERE IS MY ANSWER:
    Good morning (Ms Longwinded Agency Rep:):
    I am a California court certified Interpreter.
    I am one of very few or the ONLY court Certified interpreter available in this area for your assignment
    I work in the courts every day.
    I decline filling out cumbersome onesided legalese agreements or contracts with any agency.
    The State of California already completed Background checks and Profiles on all certified interpreters like myself.
    MY REQUIRED STEPS FROM YOU ARE SIMPLE:
    1 Tell me what it is, where it is and when it is.
    2. Agree to my flat fee compensation (Done) and cancellation policy.
    3. Pay me within the agreed period of time.
    MY STEPS ARE:
    1 I offer decades of experience, punctuality and professionalism as certified Interpreter.
    2 I will confirm the assignment once i receive it in writing.
    3 I will bill in writing once it has been completed .
    SIMPLE.
    Cheers
    Carlos Benemann

  • Andreea I Boscor
    Posted at 17:40h, 16 August Reply

    I was a paralegal before fully getting into translation and interpreting and my contracts law class helped tremendously in understanding and knowing what to look for in contracts. I can suggest maybe taking a similar course at a local county college or online.

  • Carlos Cerecedo
    Posted at 17:52h, 16 August Reply

    Carlos Beneman is absolutely correct…I have known him for many years and his comments are full of wisdom and a twist of picardia….
    (Rascal like)…thank you Carlitos!!!!

  • Myriam Sigler
    Posted at 18:25h, 16 August Reply

    I was one of the “guinea pigs” for the Federal Certification as a court Interpreter. I was certified after taking that test and have been a court interpreter/translator since 1977 or 1978. As you can see; I have had time to accumulate some experience. I do not know Mr. Beneman but he is absolutely right.

  • Alfredo Babler
    Posted at 18:27h, 16 August Reply

    A contract exists when acceptance of an offer is communicated to the offerer by the offeree. Once this offer is made to the offeree, something called power of acceptance takes effect. Offer + Acceptance + Payment = Contract. Contracts are only as valid as the effectiveness of the court system that governs them is in enforcing them. Now, we all work in the court system(s), and with lawyers, right? Well, that ought to tell you that it is always better to develop a relationship of trust with the people you do business with rather than to force them into specific performance. Along the same(ish) road, we have the Non-Competition Agreements. Our industry, as many others, is plagued with unethical scumbaggery, backstabbing, from-under-the-feet-rug-pulling, bickering, slander, gossip… LOL, I’m just messing with you, guys. Anyhoo, when interpreters decide they’re going to have a crack at developing their own portfolio of clients, they frequently start handing out their own business cards at assignments, effectively attempting to steal someone else’s client. They will justify it with a BS rule pulled out of a recondite orifice that they will tell you says, “I can give my own business card to the opposing counsel at a assignment, as long as I don’t give it to the attorney(s) that is the client of the agency that hired me.” A bigger, steamier, more stinking pile of BS has never been seen. They never spent a dime on marketing themselves and advertising their services, cold calling, hitting the pavement or developing business relationships with prospective clients, but they walk in willy nilly into an assignment and behave like the world owes them something. Kind of sucks, uh? So, agencies over the years have gotten a bit paranoid and have created these abominations they call contracts in order to curtail the sort of behavior that is often seen in the field when it comes to “stealing” clients (biting the hand that feeds you). They just don’t want to lose a client to unethical business practices. No contract is ever going to get rid of the scumbags, no matter how much lawyer-language of “void” and “voidable,” “enforceable,” “revoke,” “unilateral,” and every other conflictive contradiction is written in a piece of paper. At some point in life, one has to have faith that there is a God, a superior power that rules by natural law, and that poetic justice is a real thing and karma is indeed a bitch, and try to give each other the benefit of the doubt and develop a long-lasting business relationship with professionals that understand that we are all paddling this same ol’ boat in the same direction. No, I’m not going to start chanting or opening a chakra now, that’s just how I see it. Some would call me naive. That’s all right. Perhaps I am.
    Have a super weekend, awesome linguists!

  • C Carrera
    Posted at 19:19h, 16 August Reply

    I recommend that Interpreters take a class on contract law for lay people.

    Yes, I have declined signing contracts when I don’t have time to read them. Some agencies dispense with it or even work with me in the wording of the contract.

    I decline to submit to the jusridiction of another state aside from where I am. Of course, I don’t really know of the other juriafiction is more favorable to us.

    I decline provisions where our work’s considered substandard when it’s only the other party who determines that and we are not given notice and an opportunity to be heard.

    Some clients will put you in their insurance if you don’t have one.

    I don’t think the state of California runs background checks on certified interpreters as a whole, but I have undergone background checks in different counties that require such before they give you a security badge.

    I understand the need of our clients to protect themselves and they should understand that we also do the same. If they pay for atty’s fees so we can consult one on our own bwfore signing their contracts, I am fine with that. Of course, my rate will be much higher die to the time I need in dealing with them.

    Hope this helps and thanks you all for sharing.

  • Irene Radillo-Diaz
    Posted at 22:15h, 16 August Reply

    Your question made me think back to when I started and was very nervous about contracts, so know that you are not alone! I agree with Carlos Benemann that in essence, you are the one who can determine what conditions you are comfortable with and what your requirements are (especially if you are in an area where there is less competition), and I really like Teresa Roman’s idea of requiring a check at the time of the depo (because as we all know, mostly they want to pay us up to 30 days later). When I was starting, it helped me a lot to have friends who guided me by letting me look at their contracts, or gave me tips on what things to avoid falling into. Maybe the difference is that I was working directly for attorneys in the area and not through agencies. So it’ll be a game you learn to play and become more confident in… Whenever possible, I prefer not to go through agencies precisely because they have all those hoops to jump through. And if you have your own contract that you love, they may still say that theirs, by policy, supersedes yours. So whatever course of action is taken contract-wise, in the confirmation email I send, I spell out my conditions very clearly (hourly rate, minimum hours, how fractions of an hour are counted, cancellation policy, requirement to have information made available to me before the depo, rates for travel, etc). Good luck!

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 01:54h, 17 August Reply

    Plenty of good advice above. But you asked three questions:
    1- What should I be looking for in a contract? – The client usually tells you what they expect from you, how they are going to pay you and where disputes will be resolved (including which set of laws they will use). I once succeeded in having a client change the venue and laws from Ireland to the US, i.e. clauses are negotiable when your arguments are sensible.

    2- What should I demand in a contract? – Respect: my service has a price, my time has a price. When dealing with direct clients, I request either full payment of 25% at the acceptance of my terms. Avoids a lot of problems. It is not all about money: you also have responsibilities and you should live up to them.

    3- Should I have my own contract? – I think it is always a good idea, even if you never use it, just so you know what your ideal terms are. My contract stipulates what format documents are to be delivered to me and back to the client; if electronically or hard copy; what the venue for disputes is; definitions of confidentiality and my responsibilities; what currency payment will be made, when it is to be made, etc, I like having that because it helps me. But just having a list of your terms and conditions may be enough to guide you in negotiations.

    This month it saved me from a headache: a new client, an agency, I sent my invoice for XXX and they paid me XXX-over $1k. I requested that they review our contract, pointed out that I had the chain of emails in which we discussed the details of the contract and language I noticed was missing, corrected the values agreed upon. And they corrected the payment.

    Contracts, between honorable people, is a good tool for when “memories lapse”. They used a standard contract, did not adapt all the cut & past to what had been discussed, the people in accounting was probably used to issuing checks for a given amount for specific projects… A thousand things could have gone wrong. I am glad I had my contract and emails to fall back on.

  • robersilva
    Posted at 08:29h, 19 August Reply

    Very good question and a huge number of wonderful answers. For me, the moment about online contacts was always unclear. In fact, everyone can put a tick on the computer, how to prove that it was the client who signed the contract and not the person passing by?

  • Pingback:Contracts: Is it really a matter of trust? - NAJIT
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    […] few weeks ago, a colleague wrote to The Couch seeking guidance on the matter of contracts. I am not sure she (or he?) had any idea what was coming. I have decided to compile the answer we […]

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