The Couch

The Couch – Where we analyze our professional dilemmas

The Couch is back. Can we help our colleague who, apparently, is doing too good of a job?
How about you? This is a space where we can share our doubts, our knowledge and help our colleagues. All data that might make the parties or case identifiable have been removed.
Please note: all contributions should be sent to the Editor and not entered in the comments.


Thank you so very much! I can’t imagine how I would have survived this ordeal without your assistance. Next time you are in my neighborhood, come into my restaurant. Your meal is on me.

You were really great. Thank you. My office is always looking for people with your skills to help with our foreign clients. Please, do come by my office. I would like to have you on my team.

The next deposition is in your offices, right? Would you like to use her too? She is great, right? Ask if she is available. You may be able to book her before we leave.


Can you help?

These are the types of compliments and offers our colleague hears all the time. She says the third one is quite easy to handle. All she has to do is provide the contact information of the agency that hired her. No issues. Wait, could she actually give her own contact information since this is not the agency’s client but opposing counsel who needs her skills?

And now to scenarios one and two. Would it be wrong for her to accept a lunch or dinner paid for by someone she once in her life interpreted for at a deposition? Why? And the job offer? Sometimes it is so hard to find assignments. If the case is over, can she reach out to that guy who offered her a job?

So, TNO readers, what advice do you have for our colleague? Please, support your statements. She deserves our help.


12 thoughts on “The Couch – Where we analyze our professional dilemmas”

  1. These dilemmas are too basic! that’s what you learn on day one of interpreter ethics or professional ethics. This is an association of professionals, not of students!

    1. William says:

      This comment doesn’t help.

    2. Janis Palma says:

      That’s a bit harsh, Izabel. Yes, this is a professional association but members can have different backgrounds and experience levels. Perhaps you could contribute other scenarios you deem more challenging. The idea is to keep raising the bar for everyone, “newbies” and “oldies” alike.

  2. Felix Lizarraga says:

    Scenario One: I guess it depends on the specifics of the case. I’m sure she has seen plenty of innocuous cases, or cases where people were obviously innocent, but –would you have lunch with the serial killer who you feel got away?

    Scenario Two: If it’s not that serial killer who got away, why not? We all need to eat, and we all need to think about the future.

    Scenario Three: While a translator’s job is inherently neutral, I would steer clear of anything that could give the slightest whiff of a conflict of interest and/or could be used as such in a court of law. Just my two cents.

  3. Helen Eby says:

    Accepting a meal: I’m just going to use the nurses and aides at the facility where my mother-in-law receives care as role models. They won’t take a tip at the restaurant, a scarf for Christmas, nothing. Nothing at all. They will chase you down the hallway and return it to you, no exceptions, if you give them anything. Their response? Sorry, here we treat everyone equally. Please give this to someone else you care about. You see, the first time a tip is given it’s a gift. The next time, it’s an expectation. And there is no way to keep the person from treating the person who gave the tip better than the rest. So no. There are rules about this in the federal government, in schools, and in all kinds of places. This is not an interpreting issue.

    Having someone on their team. It depends on how they got your contact. Did they find you through the court interpreter registry? No problem. You are a neutral party, so there are no problems here. And the FTC says we can’t split up territory with competitors (that would include the agencies that hire us). So if someone approaches me at the Chamber of Commerce and says they want to hire me I have a perfect right to say yes, no matter where I have seen them before. And if they find me on the Court interpreter registry, same thing. I just don’t leave my personal biz card at an appointment where someone else sent me, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find me on the public registries. As a matter of fact, my name is on their records because they have to write down who interpreted at the session and what the qualifications were at the depos around here. When a client calls, I don’t ask how they heard about me. I just say yes if the rates match my expectations.

  4. Nancy Jervis says:

    These types of situations arise in many professional settings, and although we might find ourselves in a particularily difficult financial situation and may be tempted to accept in the hope of furthering our immediate prospects, just reflect that it is better to slowly build up a reputation of solid ethical professionalism than to fall into the trap of expediency. The rewards will be richer and long lasting, while it is near impossible to restore a tainted reputation.
    So, I would advise, in any of these or similar situations, to graciously, but firmly decline the offers. If they question your answer, simply state, “Thank you, but I cannot accept your kind invitation/offer due to the Code of Ethics to which I am professionally bound.”
    As to Izabel’s harsh words, let me just remind you that there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. Especially when they are NOT answers. As we say in Spanish, “Lo cortés no quita lo valiente”, (Courtesy does not detract from courage) or, to quote Tommy Lee Jones, “Kindness and courtesy are not overrated at all. They’re underused.”

  5. Markhabo El Nasser says:

    Scenario One: Keep it professional with LEPs, even when the case is over.

    Scenario Two: Most interpreters are self employed, independent contractors. If someone is a potential partner or a customer who inquired about their services, why not reach out?

    Scenario Three: We have plenty of situations were the interpreter served on both sides, so I don’t see the conflict of interest here unless there is some level of relationship developed between LEP and the interpreter. On the other hand, if a business relationship is already established with an agency where the interpreter already knows who he/she is going to bill and when she will get paid, offering direct contact information could just open up the interpreter-contractor to more billing and collection challenges.

  6. Gio Lester says:

    I so can relate to these questions. I worked at a bank for almost a decade. We were not supposed to accept anything from anyone, BUT clients were always taking the bosses to lunch, dinners, receptions, there were the usual Christmas gifts – that were not shared with the branch’s personnel. So, things got a bit blurry.

    I do not accept anything from anyone involved in a case I am interpreting for. As for the job offer, once the case is over, I might look into the company (internet searches can yield a lot of useful information) before contacting them. As @Helen said, the first time it is a gift, the second time it has expectations attached.

  7. Charo Gamez says:

    It has been my experience with the NCATA organizati0n, at which I also belong, that most members are not certified or are new to the profession and they are looking for guidance. I joined NAJIT as a newly certified interpreter and NAJIT guidance, with the point of view of more veteran members, was priceless for me. Now, some years later, I still appreciate and need the point of view of my colleagues. It has also been my experience that, sometimes, the most veterans in the profession are the ones who care less about ethics, maybe because the started in this profession with very little training?

    We all are professionals, but all of us need a reminder now and then. Good work NAJIT!

  8. Rosemary Rodriguez, CHI says:

    Scenario One

    I agree with Izabel, any interpreter with any type of training should know that you NEVER accept any type of gratuity from a client or provider. Your relationship should always be professional. Providers and clients always want to show their appreciation in some type of monetary form and you need to be able to say “no thank you” in a gracious respectful manner. This is day one of ethics training.

    Scenario two

    It all depends if you are a contract interpreter. If that’s the case there is nothing wrong with giving the client your card, you are an independent contractor, but if you were sent by an agency I would steer clear. You are there to do a job for the agency that sent you.

    Scenario Three
    I agree with Felix remove your self from the slightest whiff of conflict of interest.

  9. LIVIU-LEE ROTH says:

    We must adapt to each particular situation.

    Scenario One
    For many years I interpreted in medical setting for a pair of older people, both over 80. Each time I went to the hospital being appointed by an agency. Almost a year later, after the last medical encounter, they contacted me directly to interpret for them in front of an attorney to draw their will. I did my job and after that they insisted to go with them to a restaurant and have lunch together. They said that they are over 85 and it is their pleasure to have a meal with me. Does it sound like a gratuity? It was a normal human interaction.

    Scenario Two
    We are freelance and if anybody asks us to “join” their team as linguists, why not? Obviously, never hand out your business card if you got the job through an agency.

    Scenario Three
    As Markhabo El Nasser pointed out, some of us interpret for all parties involved. There were numerous times when I interpreted for the prosecution, court, public defender, probation officer, medical staff for the same LEP defendant in the same case. There is nothing wrong with that.

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