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Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association

Court Interpreter As the Bridge to Justice

sofia trefilova-martin cole lawCourt interpreters play an extremely important role in the judicial system. Whether it is a court hearing, a deposition, or simple translation of a court document, a court interpreter acts as a bridge between a non-English speaker and the Court.

In today’s society, the services of a court interpreter are in high demand in the State of Tennessee. According to the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, in the year 2018, there were 16,215 processed court interpreter claims.

I have been a registered Russian Court Interpreter for the State of Tennessee since January 2019. As a child in Russia and for as long as I can remember, I wanted to become an interpreter. I had an interest in studying foreign languages and could see myself  traveling throughout the world while working with various companies as an interpreter. However, the demand for interpreters in Russia had drastically decreased by the time I began my college career. Therefore, I decided to pursue a career in Legal Studies and graduated magna cum laude from Chadron State College in the United States. I subsequently moved to Tennessee and am currently working as a paralegal at Cole Law Group in Brentwood.

Shortly after starting my employment at Cole Law Group, I discovered the need for a Russian court interpreter in Tennessee. Given my background in Legal Studies, and being a native Russian speaker able to fluently speak English, I decided to apply my skills and serve the State of Tennessee as an interpreter.

Immediately after I became credentialed with the state, I began to receive multiple calls and emails from Courts asking for my services. Most of the time I interpret for individuals who have little to no knowledge about the judicial system. It is very important for me to interpret correctly so that the non-English speaking person understands the court proceedings. It is truly a great feeling to know that, with my help, a non-English speaking person is able to have his or her voice heard in court and be entitled to the same court proceeding as an English-speaking individual.

One of the main duties of a court interpreter is to follow the rules of ethics. Under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 41, an interpreter has a duty to behave in an ethical manner. Occasionally, parties in the assigned case want to discuss what is going to happen at a hearing, what exhibits they would like to introduce, or what my opinion is regarding the proceedings. However, as an interpreter, I must act as a neutral party and avoid having contact with any parties involved in the proceeding unless it is in front of the presiding Judge and during the hearing. Additionally, I cannot at any time provide legal advice or attempt to explain the proceeding to a non-English speaker.

At times, a party to the proceeding becomes so happy about the outcome of their matter that they want to talk to the interpreter, invite that person into their home, or meet outside of the courtroom. It is crucial to make individuals aware that an interpreter cannot engage in discussions of any kind with a non-English speaker.

In my opinion, being bilingual and speaking multiple languages fluently is not enough to be a court interpreter. It is essential to be familiar with the judicial system and understand all the legal terms. In addition, interpretation is not an easy process. An interpreter needs to be trained to interpret simultaneously, consecutively, and do sight translation of documents. Therefore, a court interpreter should be able to convey the language of the judges and attorneys to the target language and vice versa. A court interpreter is a professional who is engaged in a highly technical profession.

Without court interpreters, individuals would not have equal access to justice. Being able to help parties who speak or understand little or no English fulfills a much needed purpose in our community.

If you are interested in becoming a court interpreter, please visit the court interpreter program page on the AOC website and check out the interpreter assessment link.

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