Sign Language Interpreters for Deaf or Hearing Impaired Clients: It’s Worth the Expense

22 Sep Sign Language Interpreters for Deaf or Hearing Impaired Clients: It’s Worth the Expense

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 28 U.S.C. sections 12181 – 12183, the federal regulations implementing the ADA, 36 C.F.R. 36.104 et seq., and the U.S. Department of Justice regulations relating to lawyers and the ADA, 56 Fed.Reg. 35567, address a lawyer’s obligation to provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf client at the lawyer’s expense.

At the time of the writing of this article, the cost of a private sign language interpreter averages about $100.00 to $150.00 per hour. In the author’s experience, one hour of interpreting is normally all that is needed to effectively represent a deaf or hearing impaired client in a bankruptcy case, so long as liberal use is made of written materials concerning bankruptcy, along with text messaging and emails.

In such cases, given that attorneys fees for a bankruptcy case average $1,500.00 to $5,000.00, the $150.00 expense is not a significant one. In fact, it is clear that representing a deaf client who needs an interpreter is a good business decision for the lawyer, in addition to the lawyer’s being legally or even ethically obligation to pay for an interpreter.

Under the ADA and its accompanying regulations, a lawyer is place of public accommodation required to provide auxiliary aids or services for deaf clients. The regulations state that this includes providing an interpreter, unless the lawyer can demonstrate that providing an interpreter constitutes an undue burden or expense. The cost of an interpreter cannot be passed on to the client. However, if only one or two hours of interpreting is needed, it is difficult to see how this could constitute an undue burden for the lawyer.

The question of whether a bankruptcy lawyer should provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf client is easily answered “yes,” based not only on the law, but upon simple economics. If the lawyer stands to earn a fee of several thousand dollars in return for spending $150.00 for an interpreter, it is obvious that the lawyer will earn an amount close to his or her normal fee for such a bankruptcy case.

The lawyer may also find that the deaf client, being a member of a group of individuals who are close-knit and communicate often about legal matters, will become a source of referrals of other clients for the lawyer. Thus, the smart bankruptcy lawyer will conclude that providing a sign language interpreter for a deaf client is a wise course of action, both legally and financially.

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Craig W. Andresen is a consumer bankruptcy lawyer in Bloomington, Minnesota, with 22 years’ experience in consumer and small business bankruptcy cases. He is the Minnesota chair of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, and is a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Bankruptcy Section. Mr. Andresen lectures often on the topic of consumer bankruptcy at local and national legal seminars.
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