Courtroom Interpreter: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for courtroom interpreters. Get the facts about education requirements, skills, salary and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Legal Transcriptionist degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Courtroom Interpreter?

Courtroom interpreters, also known as legal or judicial interpreters and translators, are responsible for ensuring that non-English speaking individuals (and those with limited English language skills) involved in legal proceedings can participate and efficiently communicate despite the language barrier. This type of interpreter may be involved in arraignments, depositions, and trials. In addition to fluency in a second language, courtroom interpreters must have a thorough understanding of legal terminology and processes.

Read about important skills, training, certification and earning potential.

Education Required Postsecondary certificate or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Translation, court reporting
Key Skills Listening, writing, speaking, interpersonal skills, language fluency
Certification Voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 29% (for all interpreters and translators)*
Median Salary (2015) $49,660 (for all interpreters and translators in government)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as a Courtroom Interpreter?

As a courtroom interpreter, you'll be responsible for transposing spoken testimony and instruction from one language to another. Courtroom interpreters alternately convert English and a foreign language for non-English speaking plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses. In addition to courtroom proceedings, such as trials, arraignments and hearings, you may also provide services for jail visits or attorney-client conversations.

Federal law dictates that all non-native English speakers must understand everything being said in any legal proceeding in which they're involved. As a court interpreter, you help carry out this law by ensuring that all foreign-speaking participants fully understand everything they're asked or told by legal officials. You'll often inform them, in their native language, of both their legal rights and the implications of anything they may say in court. You'll recount their responses from their native languages back to legal officials in English, ensuring that their legal right to communication is met.

What Skills and Education Do I Need?

Court interpreting often involves rapid, verbal translation from English to a foreign language. Therefore, you'll need to be fully fluent in any languages you interpret. Excellent command of the English language is also required. You'll need some legal knowledge, which can generally be obtained through college courses or degree programs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while there are no formal education requirements for courtroom interpreters, a bachelor's degree is often necessary for employment (www.bls.gov). Bachelor's degrees in legal interpretation are not widely available; however, numerous schools offer certificate programs in court interpreting or related areas, such as translation services or English-Spanish translation. These programs teach basic writing, speaking and grammar for a specific foreign language along with legal terminology and explanation of processes. To enroll in a legal translation program, you're usually required to be fluent in one or more languages.

Should I Get Certified?

Though the profession doesn't require it, some employers prefer a demonstration of proficiency, encouraging court interpreters to seek certification. You may obtain specific credentials through federal or state courts, as well as the American Translators Association (ATA). The ATA offers certification exams for several languages, including Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic, to anyone with a solid work or educational background in court interpreting. Federal certification requires that you pass the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination, a written and oral test measuring your interpretation skills. State courts have their own certification programs with various testing requirements and structures.

How Much Could I Earn?

As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the median wages for all interpreters and translators employed by governments were $49,660 per year, while federal interpreters at the executive level made an average of $74,930. According to the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), earnings for courtroom interpreters vary widely, partially because many interpreters work on a freelance basis (www.najit.org). As of the beginning of 2017, the Federal Courts Interpreters (www.uscourts.gov) website page reported that the federal government paid $418 per day to certified court interpreters, and $202 per day to non-certified interpreters. Non-freelance salary positions are also available in state and federal courts, but average salary data for these positions vary widely.

What Are Some Related Occupations?

Your skills as a courtroom interpreter will qualify you for several similar positions. Alternate occupations might include medical interpreter, translator, and bilingual interpreter. These jobs require at least a postsecondary non-degree or a bachelor's. You can also use your specialization for a career in education and become a school teacher or foreign language instructor. You'd start with a bachelor's degree for these positions. You could possibly freelance those language skills at law offices, government agencies, or hospitals. For all of these positions you will need to obtain at least a bachelor's degree.

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