The Cost To Communicate: Attorneys Response To Language Barriers

Posted by Bradley Thayer | May 31, 2021 | 0 Comments

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Recently my partner, Ben Melnick, wrote a blog post in titled Language Barriers and Connecting With Clients.  Ben's post details a very real challenge that we grapple with and that is the difficulty with communicating with those of other languages.

Our Clients Have Many Languages

I can't even begin to list all of the different languages—some of which included (if I'm being honest) languages and/or dialects that I had never heard of prior—potential clients have spoken when contacting our office for help. But, if we can help, we want to help and we try not to let any sort of language barrier get in the way. 

We will do anything we can to make sure that we can help them with their legal needs regardless of the language they speak. 

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But, How Much With Language Assistance Cost?

Another real piece to this challenge is the potential costs involved in translation services throughout the course of a client's case. 

Schauermann Thayer has made a firm commitment to not pass the cost of everyday, basic communication translation services onto our clients.  Essentially, we are cognizant of the fact that it is us who does not speak another person's language and it is us who cannot accommodate them in providing our services.

 A client who speaks another language other than English should not have to pay more in terms of costs with respect to our services just because they speak another language, from our perspective. 

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Try Not To Charge Clients for Legal Interpreter Fees

To be clear, there is an ethical consideration for personal injury attorneys which requires the client to bear the costs of prosecuting their claims, ultimately—for example in Washington State, pursuant to the Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically RPC 1.8

“(e) A lawyer shall not, while representing a client in connection with contemplated or pending litigation, advance or guarantee financial assistance to a client, except that: 

(1) a lawyer may advance or guarantee the expenses of litigation, including court costs, expenses of investigation, expenses of medical examination, and costs of obtaining and presenting evidence, provided the client remains ultimately liable for such expenses…”

But, if we need to call a client with a question about whether or not they have signed a particular document for us or if we just need to get a status update on their medical treatment or otherwise, and we need to use an interpreter for this—we are not ethically obligated to bill our clients and we are not willing to nickel and dime our clients in that way. 

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Hiring A Court-Certified Interpreter

In the alternative, if a court proceeding requires that a court-certified interpreter be hired or something like that, then this is clearly within the rule a “cost[] of obtaining and presenting evidence” and thus “the client remains ultimately liable for such expenses”.  

The over-arching take-away, though, is that we are doing everything we can, within the ethical bounds that we are subject to, to ensure that similarly-situated clients are treated equally from a cost perspective. 

One of the main considerations voiced in Ben's blog (referenced above) is an equal access to justice.  It is our hope that Schauermann Thayer is at least doing some small part in ensuring equal access to justice by not passing significant translation charges for everyday, basic communication onto our clients who speak other languages.

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About the Author

Bradley Thayer

Brad Thayer is a partner at the Schauermann Thayer firm. Brad is licensed in both Oregon and Washington. He has been practicing law since 2015. He was presented the 2018 Rising Star Award by the Clark County Bar Association. Brad's practice focuses on automobile collision, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian injury, dog bite, and myriad other types of injury and insurance cases. During his free time, Brad enjoys following the Portland Trail Blazers, playing basketball, going to concerts, and playing the drums. He especially enjoys hiking in the Columbia River Gorge and exploring other Northwest wonders.

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