Freelance Court Interpreting: Where to start?
Thread poster: Eng2Span

Eng2Span  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:27
English to Spanish
+ ...
Dec 30, 2006

Hi everybody,

I currently run a fulltime business (not in translating/interpreting) which has quite a flexible schedule for the most part. In other words, I can be at the office for half the day and get my work done, with little difference as to which half of the day I picked. I can't do this every single day, since it is a fulltime business after all, but enough to where I might be able to squeeze other ventures in successfully.
Last year I obtained my Federal Court Interpreter certification (just for kicks, since it's not really something I do for substantial income) and now am toying with the idea of providing my service to the community for their benefit, as well as my own if possible. I don't mean this to boast, but with the large Spanish-speaking community we have here in Tampa, FL it is pretty surprising how some interpretations pass as acceptable. My main concern is always "how does this affect the non-English speaker"... my mother is a judge's aide for a criminal court in another part of the country and I know first-hand how crucial the right words can be. But, of course, everybody here on ProZ knows this as well.
So, to get to my request to all of you...
How would you suggest I get my foot in the door for court interpreting? Because of my certification I get letters once in a blue moon from across the country letting me know about fulltime job openings, which is quite comforting as a parachute... but it's not really what I'm after. Is it possible to offer to the court a certain day(s) a week of availability? Who should I speak with at a court to handle something like this?
A family member who had to go through criminal court proceedings (nolle prossed) mentioned that for every visit he had to pay $40 and that he was told that the county paid another $40 to the interpreter he required. This interpreter handled 5-6 people in the space of an hour! Can this be??? Or is all of this money going to some government office and the interpreter only gets $5? If I can arrange to be at court on a certain day making 2-300 an hour... doesn't sound too bad does it?
Anyways, for those of you on the inside, how do things really work? Am I better off soliciting attorneys for sporadic work? I wouldn't mind this, but I find it less likely that "I" could pick my schedule when dealing with private attorneys. Where with a court I would just handle the cases that due to my community will invariably be there on any given day.


Thank you!

Jesse

By the way, no, my family member never asked me to go with him (and I didn't know about this till after), otherwise he could have saved the money.


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echoshen
Local time: 20:27
English to Chinese
+ ...
fed court interpreter Dec 30, 2006

hi jesse
Can you please tell me how you got the fed court interpreter certificate? I've been thinking about doing it for a while, just don't know where to start.
Would appreciate your advise.
echo


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Sybille  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 02:27
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Court interpreting Dec 30, 2006

in Germany:
First of all, if you are a certified interpreter in Germany, courts and other official facilities (e.g. police etc.) have a list with the names of interpreters of different languages. So they will find out the possible interpreter from that list, contact him/her 2 months ago (yes, really) and expect an answer, whether you could do the job/would be available on that special day. I think it would not be possible to tell the court clerks, that you are available only on a specific day of the week and they only can "book" you, if the proceedings take place on that day.

And to prepare yourselves to interpreting, call the court or the solicitor and ask him/her to send you a copy of the bill of indictment. Try to translate it (orally) by reading the text aloud. I believe there will be a lot of expressions andd word you have never dealt with. So it would be better to have it translated calmly and learn those new expressions/words by heart. This will help you a lot.

Regards

Sybille


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Eng2Span  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:27
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I don't know how I got it myself!! :-) Dec 30, 2006

echoshen wrote:

hi jesse
Can you please tell me how you got the fed court interpreter certificate? I've been thinking about doing it for a while, just don't know where to start.
Would appreciate your advise.
echo


I have always been told that I coult interpret pretty well, even though I never really worked in the field. I have worked in many different trades, although lately mostly financial and so I just wanted to try interpreting/translating as an additional source of income and to make sure I kept my grasp of both languages as strong as possible.
Sooo, I decided if I was going to be taken seriously at all I would need certification. I wanted to join ATA but they require a minimum of a bachelor's degree or 5 years FULLTIME work experience in translating/interpreting... OR... the federal court certification (it's THAT difficult)... being that I do not have any formal education (structured) beyond high school I went the FCICE route, which has no prerequisites to take the exam.
Some people who take it study specifically for it for years (literally)... and both parts (written and oral) are equally difficult. The worst part is that they only administer one part per year. They will only be doing the oral test in 2007, and you need to pass the written before they let you take the oral. So 2009 is the earliest that someone starting now can be certified. With the demand they have here, one would think they would do these more often. Plus, to be honest the tests are extremely difficult. Most people that take the exams are working pros and yet they say only about 3% pass the tests. I don't want to scare you off, just want you to know what to expect. Besides, look at me, just a HS diploma, can't honestly say I studied more than 2 days for either part, little professional experience, yet I passed both on my first try. So, people's experiences in obtaining the certification can be very different.


Here is the current website...

http://www.cps.ca.gov/fcice-spanish/

although they say they will change it after January 2, 2007 to the following:

http://www.ncsconline.org/fcice/

This site has all the info you will need... it's all I did...
the practice material they give you is very similar to, but much shorter than, the actual tests, so use these to your advantage.


Hope it goes well for you!

Jesse


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:27
English to Spanish
+ ...
Congratulations! Dec 30, 2006

First of all, if you have Federal Court Interpreter certification, then that puts you in a very elite group. You are also not alone in lack of formal education, I have a colleague locally who confessed that she was a high school dropout (married very young, never graduated). She and I both passed the test back in 1980-81. We both did it just for kicks as well and never thought of working for the Federal Court.

However, it has provided dividends to both of us through the years.

Now I would think it would be relatively easy to get into court interpreting there. Your first step would be to go to all the courts in your area (federal, state and local) and find out who is doing the interpreting. If there are staff interpreters at some courts, talk to them. Once you have scoped out the situation, then work out your strategy.

If there are freelancers working there, try to meet them. Try to approach them on a basis that you are not a competitor, but to the contrary, you can be an asset to them. How?

I'll tell you how. In the business of court interpreting, not only at court but at depositions (a good bit of the business volume), jobs are always being scheduled and cancelled at the last minute. In addition, when a gig is booked there is not always a way of telling accurately how long it will last. Time conflicts appear almost immediately.

The result is that freelance court interpreters are often in a pinch... they book a job, another request comes in, they turn it down then... whammo! the first one gets canceled and they are left with zilch.

That's where you come in. You tell them "I'm flexible, so you can double-book, you book me for the second one, then if only one comes through, you take it. If both come through, we both work."

And you're no threat to them, you don't want their job, you have a business to run!

I can practically guarantee you'll get started pretty fast.

You also take advantage of contacts at the courts by finding out who is responsible for getting interpreters. Where there are staff interpreters it will often be them. All of a sudden they are all booked and then everyone is desperate to find an interpreter, and that can be you if they know you.

The Federal Court interpreters or Clerk (if there is a Federal Court there) will be very glad to know someone certified they can call in to cover on a freelance basis when needed.

Another route could be where there might be a contractor (agency) handling interpreting needs at the courts. With Federal Court credentials it would be no trick to join their "stable".

As soon as you start getting some jobs then you will start meeting people and learning the angles and the best sources of work will become obvious. You only need to supplement your income, so you can take on only what you want.

Now don't dream about making $200-$300 an hour, maybe the county is raking that in for the services of some staff interpreter for appearances that can last ten minutes or 2 hours at $40 a crack. The interpreter gets a fixed salary. I'd say that $60 to $75 might be more realistic. Again, you can find out the going rates when making your contacts.

Setting aside certain days or hours per week might work with individual courts. But it might also be good to let people know you can be available for last-minute assignments as a standby if your business and sanity will permit.

So start doing your research and making your contacts. I don't have to wish you good luck, it's already in your pocket!

And if you can remember, let me know how it goes!


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Eng2Span  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:27
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you SOOO much! Dec 30, 2006

Henry Hinds wrote:


And if you can remember, let me know how it goes!



Wow Henry! Thank you so much for such valuable pointers!

I most certainly will let you know how it goes, you actually deserve a percentage of whatever I make!


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:27
English to Spanish
+ ...
Glad to help! Jan 1, 2007

I think the strategies I've outlined should work for you. Now I don't ask for a percentage, my help is free, but if anyone needs to know who translates legal documents and others (especially if they are long and complicated) I don't mind it when people refer work to me.

But yes, be sure to let me know how it goes. Once you start making some contacts I think you'll see some quick dividends.


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Paul Tu
Local time: 17:27
Member (2006)
Vietnamese to English
+ ...
More tips and info Jan 1, 2007

For certified interpreter, the federal courts pay $192 for 1/2 day or $355/day. $192 is the minimum even if you only work 15 minutes. If you have 2 jobs, one the a.m. and one in the p.m. , you get $355 or if the morning job runs past noon.
You can ask the interpreter coordinators how long a job lasts. Usually, they can give you an estimate. Usually I reserve 1 hour for each court hearing or attorney-client conference. For trials, they will give an estimate of how many days it will run.
State courts usually pay less ($50-$60/hour) but the work is more regular and laxed.
You can find other legal work by looking up attorney listings in the phone books or the county of state bar associations and then contacting them for work. They need certified court interpreters for depositions, arbitrations and mediations. These jobs usually run between 1 to 3 hours. Rates run between $60 to $100/hour with a 2 or 3 hour minimum.
Insurance companies also used certified court interpreters for statements and independent medical examinations (IME). Rates are same as for attorneys.

The only languages certified by federal courts are Spanish, French Creole and Navajo. Other language interpreters can ask the courts for professionally qualified status to get the same paid as certified languages.

Most states have certification programs for other languages through the Consortium for State Courts. (Google this for more information for your state)

I started by working through agencies (again, find them in phone books or through google). They get a cut of your pay, but they provide guidance and training. After awhile, I went out on my own. I have been working as a full time free lance court interperter for 14 years and it has been very satisfying and rewarding. Hope this is useful. Good luck.


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Paul Merriam  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:27
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
You're not restricted to courts Jan 1, 2007

You have a good credential, which you can use on your resume when applying for translating and interpreting jobs outside of courts. If you're working around your primary business, you may find you have more flexibility transcribing tapes or translating documents (which generally can be done at your home or place of business without requiring you to travel to the courthouse).

If you haven't done so already, I recommend you visit NAJIT's web site (http://www.najit.org) and the ATA's web site (http://www.atanet.org) and see whether they have links to anywhere you want to go.


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Eng2Span  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:27
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Update on my freelancing... Jul 23, 2007

Hi everybody,

Well, just wanted to fill everybody in (Henry in particular) on how I am doing. It was quite funny, a few days after posting my message here asking for advice, I received a call from the Clerk of our local federal court... she was basically in awe that there was a federally certified interpreter in town that she did not know about. As large as Tampa is, there are only about 7 of us for three courts! So, this explains her surprise. She asked if I would be available for on-call type assignments. Which, of course, is exactly what I wanted.
And so, I have now been interpreting at the federal court for the last two moths. I just got assigned to a pretty big (in the news and all) trial with 11 Spanish-speaking defendants last week and have learned immensely from it. The good thing is they have scheduled three of us for it, since it is quite intense. This has allowed me to learn greatly from my colleagues.
Starting out they had me do initial appearances, changes of plea, sentencings, etc. So, this being my first trial, was quite exciting. I even got to do the sentencing a few weeks ago for a very notorious criminal who robbed dozens of banks in our area. I must say, this is truly an enthralling industry!
Oh, and the people I've worked with! Just fantastic professionals! Very willing to share and provde CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. I have not once minded being pointed out my mistakes by these folks since they have been so gracious in how they go about it. Likewise, they take mentions of any slipups of their own very well in return. The entire crew here at the Clerk's office is also very nice.
I took Henry's advice with regard to offering help to the other freelancers to enable them to "double-book" and have landed quite a number of depositions, and examinations-under-oath while covering for his schedule.

So, in essence... THANK YOU! If I believed in regretting, my only regret would be having sat on my certification for so long without making use of it. Not only financially, but the social and educational experience has been superb! I even found a client for my mortgage business while interpreting, so it's just really all working well so far.

Henry, well, since you won't take a cut from my earnings, you'll need to let me know when you're near Tampa... you'll have a steak dinner waiting for ya!

Thank you all!

Jesse

P.S. - I didn't mean to imply that the Clerk found out about me through reading my post in Proz.com... it was just providence that she called when she did.

[Edited at 2007-07-23 18:05]


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