Mandatory Ethics Workshop for OLA interpreters

Court interpreters must complete a mandatory ethics workshop in order to provide services with the Office of Language Access (OLA).

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Professionally-trained court interpreters have an individual responsibility to know and uphold their ethical standards of practice on the job. The Code of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters of the Trial Court (Code of Conduct) Section 4.00 of the Standards and Procedures of the Office of Language Access (Standards & Procedures) governs the role of Massachusetts court interpreters. After a revised Code of Conduct was released in November 2009, the OLA offered its Mandatory Ethics Training in 2010 to help its interpreters apply the currently approved standards of practice. This ethics training includes a written exam and a 3-hour workshop on the Code of Conduct.

By offering this comprehensive training on the revised Code of Conduct, OLA hopes to achieve 3 things:

  • That interpreters carefully review and understand the code’s contents
  • That they gain insights into applying its standards effectively, and
  • That OLA and its interpreters work together in supporting the standards of practice.

This OLA mandatory training is open only to active OLA screened and certified court interpreters.

Workshop overview

The Ethics Workshop was offered for the first time in 2010 on different dates and at various locations. OLA screened and certified interpreters can easily register for the session they prefer by clicking on the link Workshop Registration and following instructions to register.

The Ethics Workshop will focus on group discussion, analysis, and effectively applying standards of practice to real-life scenarios. A successful discussion can only take place if everyone has read and studied the Code of Conduct before arriving at the workshop. Therefore, before attending the Ethics Workshop, participants must have completed the Mandatory Written Ethics Exam, which serves as a general review of the Code of Conduct.

OLA’s Code of Conduct resembles other codes of ethics and codes of professional conduct because it doesn’t envision every single situation that may challenge the interpreter’s ability to remain within their role while performing daily court duties. Interpreters are constantly confronted with ethical dilemmas, whether they are aware of it or not. Generally, the Code of Conduct provides guidelines for handling clear-cut situations, such as a potential for conflict of interest, an error in interpretation, a breach of confidentiality, etc. There are many issues that are not so clear cut, however, and problems may suddenly stem from those borderline situations that cause interpreters to feel conflict between their role as interpreter, their role as officer of the court, or their role as a good-intentioned citizen. Problems may also occur when interpreters find another court official’s behavior towards LEP parties questionable, unprofessional, or potentially damaging.

Interpreters must develop the skills to successfully manage difficult situations. Training and experience will eventually help interpreters understand that, when handling ethically-challenging scenarios, some decisions will ultimately be made by carefully considering all factors and potential consequences for each situation. The most important aspect to remember is that court interpreters must have a solid understanding of their role in order to avoid ethical missteps. They have an individual responsibility to uphold standards of practice in order to preserve the integrity of the interpreted encounter and therefore protect the rights all LEP parties have to due process.

Consider, for instance, the following scenarios:

  • "The attorney is not advising this non English-speaking lady correctly of the immigration consequences she will face if she pleads out. She will most likely be deported, but the attorney is assuring her that she’ll be ok. Should I say something to the attorney about this?”
  • “During the attorney-client interview, the non English-speaking client kept asking me questions directly in our language. I tried to interpret the questions into English for the benefit of the attorney. To my amazement, he interrupted me and told me he wasn’t interested in hearing about it. His client has a misdemeanor charge against her but now she was telling me of the abuse she’d been suffering at home. I know I can’t get involved, but this attorney was totally indifferent to the woman she was supposed to assist. Should I have informed the Judge about this?”
  • “I have been assigned to this serious sexual assault matter to assist the defendant, but I just found out that one of the District Attorneys witnesses is someone I know from my community-advocacy meetings. Actually, although I had not met the defendant himself, once a long time ago I babysat for his sister. I know I am the only interpreter OLA has in my language and if I disclose this information they may disqualify me. These people will be left without linguistic access, which is terrible. Should I still go ahead and say something? Perhaps I should I simply wait to see if it comes up, and then I’ll give them any information they want. Is that a better option here?”

Any of the previous scenarios could appear challenging to some interpreters, depending on their reading of the Code of Conduct. Regarding the first scenario, perhaps the majority of professionally-trained interpreters would choose to move in and out of the situation limiting their participation to interpreting. On the other hand, some could choose to intervene to some degree, arguing that their role also mandates that they help ensure the non English-speaker’s right to linguistic presence within the legal process. The former would be following the Code of Conduct strictly as impartial participants, whereas the latter would be prioritizing their role as officers of the court. Which group would be most correct in this situation? What would the potential consequences be for the professional court interpreter in each group?

Understanding the interpreter’s Code of Conduct demands first-hand knowledge of its actual contents. It also requires the ability to analyze situations individually before applying the Code’s standards. A way to achieve this level of understanding is to use a systematic approach to handle difficult situations based on analyzing and self-monitoring your decision-making process.

Workshop goals

The Ethics Workshop’s goal is to give interpreters guidance on applying the Code of Conduct effectively through discussing sample scenarios. Most of the sample scenarios that will be discussed in the Workshop illustrate situations that could be open to different actions by the interpreter. In discussing and weighing various possible solutions for each scenario, our goals are to help participants:

  • Learn to identify ethically problematic situations that the Code of Conduct provides specific guidelines for, and to use these guidelines;
  • Learn to identify ethically problematic situations that the Code of Conduct doesn’t provide specific guidelines for, and to use their knowledge analytically to decide what to do;
  • Understand that every choice carries consequences, some of them unforeseen at the moment. Some consequences may be less desirable or acceptable than others.

Therefore, interpreters will need to gauge how these consequences impact their role as an interpreter as well as the legal process.

General guidelines for workshop participants

To ensure that everyone benefits from the workshop, here are some important guidelines to remember individually:

“As a participant in the OLA Ethics Workshop...

I will not feel personally attacked if someone disagrees with me. Everyone should feel comfortable expressing disagreement with a colleague’s ideas if it involves a professional, mutually respectful exchange.  

I will remember that the goal of this exercise is to learn to analyze situations and figure out ways to approach them, rather than proving that I'm right at all costs. Indeed, I can learn from everyone, even from those I disagree with, and I don’t want to close myself to different points of view to approach a problem. 

I will avoid monopolizing the discussion because while my contribution to the discussion is very important, so is everyone else’s. Instead, if any member of my group is not contributing ideas, I will prompt her or him to participate for the benefit of all.”

Additional Resources

Certificate of Completion

Attendance at the 2010 Ethics Workshop was mandatory for all OLA screened and certified interpreters. OLA will continue to offer the Workshop so new interpreters can attend. Interpreters who meet the Mandatory Ethics Exam and Workshop requirement will receive a certificate of completion. OLA will revise and update its Workshop and Exam periodically and may require interpreters to continue to attend other Ethics educational events.

Ethics Workshop Format and Role of the Moderator(s)

The Ethics Workshop lasts 3 hours, including a break. Participants are expected to carefully review any materials sent before the day of the workshop, and are encouraged to bring questions and ideas. All registered participants must have read or re-read the complete 2009 version of the Code of Professional Conduct before attending the Ethics Workshop, and bring it with them to the Workshop.

After a general presentation that will include whole group discussion, the moderator(s) will divide all attendees into small discussion groups and will assign 1 or more sample scenarios for discussion to each group. Each group will choose a spokesperson, who will later report on the group’s main discussion points. Each group should focus the discussion on their assigned scenario.

After all of the small groups have finished their reports, the moderator will open the floor to a general discussion of the cases studied or on any other issue related to court interpreter ethics. The Written Ethics Exam completed before the Workshop will be reviewed collectively during the course of the Workshop.

The Moderator will give participants instructions on how to conduct whole and small group discussions. Because the format of the workshop has been carefully designed, we ask participants to follow the Moderator’s guidelines and instructions.

Contact   for Mandatory Ethics Workshop for OLA interpreters


For requests for Spanish language access: Email Office of Language Access at
For requests for language access for Languages Other Than Spanish (LOTS): Email Office of Language Access at


Two Center Plaza, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02108

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