Posted by: patenttranslator | March 27, 2011

How Long Do Translators Have To Wait To Get Paid?

A few months ago I wrote a post called “When Do Translators Get Paid?” in which I came to the conclusion that it depends. It seems that there are no real standard payment terms because the market is so incredibly fragmented. I think that not long ago there used to be a standard of 30 days for payment of invoices from translators in this country (United States), which is what I am still using for my clients.

But everything is in flux right now. As the ancient Greeks told us, everything has always been in flux and always will be, but maybe the things are a little bit more fluid now than they used to be not so long ago. For example, I have been faithfully translating for a certain patent law firm Japanese, German and Russian patents for 5 years. One reason why I particularly liked this client was that the check for these translations would turn up in my mailbox within just a couple of days, even if it was for several thousand dollars, while other law firms usually pay in 4 to 6 weeks.

But all of a sudden, as of this year, the checks would start taking more than 2 months to find their way into my mailbox. When the law firm sent me another translation while the old one was still unpaid after 7 weeks, I sent them an e-mail asking for an explanation of their payment terms. I was so flustered that I made two stupid typos in a very short e-mail, which I discovered only after I hit the “send” button.

I did not realize that the reason why I was paid so quickly each time was that I have been working for the last 5 years for a partner in this firm. And since partners have special privileges, I was paid right away, every time, for 5 years. But after this partner recommended me to another lawyer at the firm who is not a partner yet, the accounting department started paying me after 60 days like everybody else, since they also get paid by their client only after 60 days. This was graciously explained to me by the lawyer who is now ordering my translations (and who is not a partner yet). “I am in your corner”, he said. “Please let me know if you don’t get paid within a week so I can make some noise here” (for the invoice that is now 7 weeks old).

It’s nice to have a lawyer in your corner. But still, to have to wait 60 days for your money is a killer for my cash flow. So I gave the Accounting Dpt. an ultimatum: If they can’t pay in 30 days, I will wait 60 days, but I will have to raise my rates as a compensation for the additional month of waiting. And I mean it. I wonder whether they will let their client know what is going on – it seems that this is an important client. They will have at least 3 choices.

1. They can find another translator. But after 5 years, that is major hassle, especially since as I was told, they already had their client evaluate my translations and he “approved” me for new projects that are in the pipeline. But still, that may be what they will do.

2. They can simply pass the additional cost of my translations (it is not a major increase, but it is an increase in a generally lousy economy) on to the client without making a lot of noise about it. Maybe the client will not even notice, or not mind too much. Prices go up all the time.

3. They can extend the “the partner privilege” for the purposes of new projects that I am working on to lawyers who are not partners yet so that I would get paid in 30 days again.

I am obviously not sure what they will do. The same kind of thing has been happening to me for about the 3 years or so. It seems that large corporations in particular have been extending “the waiting for your money period” to 60 days or even longer. I understand the US government takes 90 days to pay, which is why I don’t work for US government.

Another law firm that sends me quite a bit of patents for translation called me last year and the lawyer who orders the translations asked me whether I could extend my payment terms to 60 days because they get paid in 60 days and it is an important client for them, so they can’t really say no. After I told him that it would make life really difficult for me, he agreed to pay me in 30 days. But he actually is a partner too, so he too has more power in the firm than other lawyers.

I think that if nobody in the relatively short food chain involving preparation and translation of patents fights back new payment terms doubling the waiting time, in the end it will be the lowly peon at the bottom of the food chain, namely the lowly patent translator, who will be made to bear the brunt of newly onerous conditions. That is how it always seems to work in life.

But in the end, the relative importance of the individual links in the food chain really boils down to who needs whom more. If I lose a client, even a good one, because I can’t wait two months to get paid, well, this really means that I will be left only with clients who pay on time.

Is it easier for this mad patent translator to find another client, or is it easier for a client who used to pay in 30 days and now pays in 60 to find a replacement for this mad patent translator?

That is the question. And the answer probably is again: It depends.



  1. […] there are no real standard payment terms because the market is so incredibly fragmented. … get paid to blog – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Paid Blogging and tagged Long, Paid, Translators, Wait. Bookmark the […]


  2. Hi Steve!
    Have you heard from this client yet? I have to say I’m really curious about how they’re going to handle your ultimatum. I don’t know why this long payment terms thing is spreading. I ask my clients to pay me within 30 days. Some translation agencies break EU laws as they don’t offer legal payment terms to freelancers : not only are some translators underpaid, they also have to wait for their payment for up to 60, 90 or even 120 days! That’s just unbelievable and I guess some of them don’t want to say anything to avoid losing clients…


  3. Hi Sophia:

    Well, yes, I have three translations from them here right now.

    I told them that I could not start working on the new projects until they pay me for the last invoice, which was 7 weeks old at that point, and I got paid for that one within days.

    So I will start working on the new projects next week (I have to finish something else first), and my invoice for the new jobs will say “30 days net”. If I don’t get paid in 30 days, they know that I will be raising my rates to them.

    I don’t know what they will do. But either way, it is important to fight back, otherwise we will all have to wait 3 or 4 months for our money.

    If you let me wait, it’s gonna cost you, and I don’t care how big or small you are.

    Time is money.


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