Tips for Attorneys Using Interpreters

(provided to FreelanceLaw courtesy of NAJIT)



1.  Use credentialed, preferably certified, court interpreters.

§ Use for both in-court and out-of-court events.

§ Verify credentials by consulting your state of federal court roster, or by calling your local court.

§ When an interpreter states that s/he is certified, ask “by whom?” A certified court interpreter is one who has successfully passed tests explicitly designed to measure proficiency in court interpreting skills. University degrees and certificates of attendance from interpreting training events are not certifications.

§ Do not use untrained bilinguals. It is inappropriate to use family members, children, court staff, or law enforcement officers as interpreters.

§ Do not allow defendants to bring their own interpreters.


2.  Be aware that an interpreter creates an even playing field for limited-English proficient (LEP) speakers; an interpreter provides no advantage or disadvantage.

§ Interpreters should never interject their own knowledge, comments, or opinions into the interpretation. Interpreters should never advocate for any party.

3.  Use the interpreter to facilitate direct communication with LEP parties, not as a “go-between”

§ Address the client directly in English. The interpreter will then repeat what you have said in the target language. Indirect speech (e.g. “Ask him if…” or “He says that…”) can create confusion and a flawed record.

4.  Check to make sure that all speech, by all parties, is being interpreted.

5.  To be understood, speak clearly at a moderate speed and an audible volume.

6.  The interpreter’s only task is to interpret. In order to conserve impartiality and confidentiality, the interpreter should not be asked to be alone with a party. Whenever possible, the interpreter will exit the room when the attorney exits the room.

7.  Provide interpreters with the information and support needed to get the job done.

§ The more information an interpreter has about a case, the better he or she can interpret. Arrange for interpreters to receive or have access to documents related to the assignment. Whenever possible, try to use the same interpreter for both in-court and out-of-court events in a given case.

§ Provide respectful working conditions: be sure that interpreters are provided with a table in the courtroom for notebooks or laptops, a cup of water, a place to store their belongings, and a place to rest when off duty. Take the time to introduce the interpreter to other staff and explain his/her role.


8.     In order to ensure an accurate record, provide a team of two interpreters for any lengthy or complex proceeding. In criminal proceedings where both a defendant and a witness require an interpreter the second interpreter is necessary to ensure the defendant’s Constitutional right to access to counsel throughout the proceedings.


9.     A conflict of interest is not the same for an interpreter as for an attorney. An interpreter can work for either side or both sides of a case. The only prohibition is that an interpreter cannot be a witness in the same case in which s/he is acting as a proceedings interpreter.

10. Foreign-language evidence should be handled appropriately. The party offering the evidence should obtain prior transcription and translation of any audio or videotape recordings. Foreign-language documents introduced into evidence should be accompanied by a translation done by an expert (the translation may be stipulated, or authenticated through testimony.) A sound file or tape-recording should never be translated “on the spot” in court.


Information sourced from: Language and Litigation: What judges and attorneys need to know about interpreters and translators in the legal process. Judith Kenigson Kristy. Proteus, Volume XVIII, No. 4. Available in full at:

NAJIT Position Paper: Information for Court Administrators.  November 1, 2003. Available in full at: