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About the Legal InterpreterProfessional DevelopmentResources

Highly qualified interpreters are needed to work in legal settings—particularly in court and law enforcement proceedings where matters involving high-risk and personal freedoms are often the focus. According to several needs assessments conducted by the NCIEC (2007; 2010), there is a shortage of qualified interpreters to work in legal settings. Therefore, one of the goals of the NCIEC is to promote the training and certification of interpreters in this area of specialization.

Interpreting in the legal setting is a long-recognized area of specialization in the field of ASL-English interpreting. The legal setting is broad and includes law enforcement investigations, interviews and interrogations, client-attorney interactions, and a wide range of court and legal proceedings. Tradition from the field of spoken language interpreting and the legal community contribute to the conventional way legal interpreting work is performed. As well, practices have been conceived by ASL-English interpreter practitioners over time through a process of application of theory drawn from the profession’s scholarship. As a result, patterns of practice and best practices have been identified and guide the work of practitioners in this area of specialization.

Interpreters in courtroomWorking in the legal setting requires advanced interpreting competence—including the ability to fluently execute consecutive and simultaneous interpreting of complex texts, work effectively in teams—particularly the ability to work collaboratively with Deaf Interpreters (DIs), and to adapt language use to a wide range of sign language users. Further, it requires an in depth understanding of law enforcement and the legal system.

There are unique parameters impacting the work of interpreters in this setting that are the result of case law, legal and evidentiary procedures. Typically, the knowledge and skills required of interpreters to work in this setting are acquired after completion of a solid academic foundation in interpreting, coupled with multiple years of practice, followed by specialized training in legal interpreting and supervised field experience.

Certification of interpreters in this area of specialization is administered by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, and requires that one possess generalist certification, and completion of a set number of hours of training and supervised work experience prior to application. The certification process involves a stringent written and performance exam. More information about the Special Certificate: Legal can be found at the RID website.

Court Interpreting Field-based Induction Program

Program Description and Application Process

The purpose of the NCIEC Court Interpreting Induction Program is to provide supervised work experience to select certified ASL-English interpreters towards the goal of increasing the quality and quantity of practitioners specializing in court interpreting. The program is designed to facilitate certified practitioners gaining direct courtroom interpreting experience by providing them with supervised work experience designed to 1) increase their practical experience, 2) providing opportunities to reflect on their performance with experienced SC:L practitioners, and 3) improve their confidence in applying the skills, knowledge and attributes associated with working in court settings.

The program is open to both Deaf and non-deaf RID certified interpreters. The ideal candidate for this program is an RID certified practitioner who has completed at least 100 hours of training in the foundations of legal and court interpreting, has prior legal interpreting experience, and who will benefit from direct work experience in the courts. Priority will be given to certified applicants that have already taken and passed the written portion of the RID SC:L examination.

Individuals who have not yet taken the RID SC:L written exam, but meet other criteria, are also welcome to apply. However, part of their acceptance into the program will include the requirement that they take the RID SC:L written exam prior to the deadline of 9/1/16 and provide the results to the MARIE Center for inclusion in federal reporting.

In order to achieve successful completion of the induction program, all candidates will also have to fulfill the following requirements:
● Submit a favorable final performance evaluation from their induction supervisor(s)
● Complete an online evaluation of the program
● Participate in an exit interview conducted by program personnel for the purpose of collecting program evaluation information

Supervision is an essential part of this program because of the high-risk nature of court interpreting. Courts must have procedures in place that ensure that linguistic access for Deaf individuals is achieved. For this reason, the induction sites are selected because of their ability to offer direct courtoom experience coupled with supervision by experienced SC:L interpreters with long-standing relationships within the courts. These individuals, who will function as Induction Supervisors, can pave the way for program participants to gain field-based experience, while also working to protect the interests of consumers and the judiciary.

In order to provide an incentive to applicants to participate in this program, the NCIEC will pay a modest fee for each hour of approved induction in which accepted practitioners participate. This fee will allow practitioners to forgo other interpreting assignments in order to be available to accept court-related assignments. The fee may not cover all of associated costs, but will be substantial contribution towards costs. As well, practitioners participating in the program will have the rare benefit of working under the supervision of a qualified SC:L interpreter and receive regular and ongoing feedback.

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How does the program work?

The NCIEC, through the UNC-MARIE Center, has partnered with state Administrative Offices of the Court and/or agencies contracted to provide interpreting services to courts, to create induction sites in various locations around the United States. As part of the partnership, the induction sites will typically provide the supervision and the NCIEC will provide the program management—including the screening and selection of applicants.

Selected applicants will be matched with a specific induction site and supervisor—ideally, in a location within the NCIEC region in which they reside. The induction period is for 50-55 hours. How long it takes for the accepted participant to complete these hours depends on several factors—primarily the degree of flexibility the selected practitioner has in being scheduled, and the demand for interpreting services at any given time within the induction site. It is estimated that it will take an average of 10-12 weeks for the hours to be accrued. When possible, creating more condensed opportunities will be explored and implemented. For example, there may be trial or jury duty opportunities at some sites that will allow for a more expedited accrual of hours.

Once the match of a selected practitioner and induction site/supervisor occurs, an agreement will be signed that specifies the procedures and responsibilities of each party involved in the process. Once that agreement is in place, the induction supervisor will begin working with the selected practitioner to arrange for assignments. The induction supervisor, or their designated representative (who must be a certified SC:L interpreter), will accompany the selected practitioner to all of their assignments. Assignments may involve the practitioner interpreting a proceeding alone, with a team interpreter (which can include a CDI interpreter for non-Deaf interpreters), or in collaboration with the supervisor. To a limited degree, it may also involve observing the work of more experienced court interpreters. The distribution of hours is spelled out in the Court Interpreting Induction Program Agreement.

The supervisor will complete an observation form for each assignment. This form will serve as the foundation for review and discussion about the interpreting performance. The supervisor and practitioner will periodically discuss the interpreting performance and suggestions for how to improve the performance will be offered. The practitioner can work to incorporate the feedback in future assignments and in this fashion increase their competence interpreting within the courtroom.

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How does payment of the fee work?

Generally, the practitioner will submit a copy of their log, detailing the assignments they completed, signed by the induction supervisor, along with an invoice for the total amount due, once a month to the UNC MARIE Center. The MARIE Center will process payment, which usually takes about 3 weeks. A sample invoice will be provided to those individuals accepted into the program so that the accurate information can be included.

In some instances, the fee will be paid directly to an agency and they will in turn pay the interpreter and/or the supervisor. In such instances, the process will be essentially the same. An invoice will be submitted by the agency to the MARIE Center and processed for payment on a monthly basis. The same sample invoice can be used by the agency.

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Where are the induction sites located?

In the past, induction sites were with the Kentucky Administrative Offices of the Courts, the New Jersey Administrative Offices of the Courts, the Maricopa County Courts, the Denver City Courts and the Colorado Administrative Offices of the Courts through the Colorado Commission of the Deaf, and courts in Maryland, DC and Virginia through TCS Associates, among a few other sites. During this year of funding, sites will be negotiated based on the applicant pool and availability of potential sites to meet applicant and program needs.

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How many people will be accepted into the program?

For the period of November 1, 2015-September 1, 2016, about 15 individuals will be accepted into the program. The intention is to have 2-3 individuals from each of the NCIEC five regions inducted.

Some of the individuals inducted will be individuals who were already enrolled in mentorship and/or SC:L preparation programs being supported by the induction sites, but who had not yet completed the induction process. Priority is being given to facilitating the pool of individuals working directly with specific courts first. Other individuals will be selected from the pool of practitioners who apply directly to the program.

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Who can apply?

This program is limited to RID certified interpreters who meet the following criteria.
● Verifiable RID certification
● Possession of a BA degree
● Verifiable completion of at least 100 of legal and court interpreter training (ex: RID CEU transcript or academic transcript)
● Verifiable prior legal interpreting experience (letter from interpreting agency, mentor, court personnel)

Priority will also be given to individuals who, in addition to meeting the above stated criteria, can verify successful passing of the written portion of the RID SC:L examination.

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How do I apply?

Fill out this application form

This application form link can also be found at the UNC MARIE Center Website, http://www.unco.edu/marie/, under the Court Interpreting Induction Program link. The website has other useful information about the program.

Applying early is encouraged as applications will be reviewed monthly, and slots filled by qualified applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. As inductions of practitioners are complete, newly selected applicants will be scheduled to begin.

For further information about this program, feel free to contact the Program Coordinator, Amy Williamson at Amy.Williamson@unco.edu or the UNC MARIE Center Director, Anna Witter-Merithew at anna.witter-merithew@unco.edu.

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During the 2005-2010 grant cycle, the NCIEC developed the following products in support of the judiciary and interpreters specializing in legal interpreting.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Deaf Interpreters as Reasonable Accommodation
Linguistic Considerations of Deaf Litigants
Placement of Sign Language Interpreters in Court
Quick Tips for Sign Language Interpreters in the Courtroom
Securing a Qualified ASL-English Interpreter
Use of Interpreters in a Law Enforcement Setting
The Use of Interpreting Teams in the Courtroom
The Use of Video Remote Interpreting in the Courtroom
Working with Sign Language Interpreters in Contested Matters
Working with Sign Language Interpreters in Juvenile Matters Involving Deaf Participants
Working with Sign Language Interpreters When There are Deaf Jurors or Deaf Audience Members

  • Deaf Interpreters in Court brief analyzing the use of Deaf individuals as interpreters by examining state law, case law and best practices. This is an excellent tool for educating the judiciary.
  • An annotated bibliography of literature and resources useful to the teaching and practice of legal interpreting.
  • Miranda from the Perspective of Law Enforcement is an ASL translation of a segment from the TV program “Homicide” in which the team of homicide detectives share their perspectives on the Miranda Warning. It provides important insight into the rights of all suspects and the disconnect between those rights and the desire of law enforcement to secure information necessary to solve crimes. It also provides insight into how certain rights might be discussed in ASL.
  • Legal Terminology Search Engine: 300 commonly seen terms in legal discourse translated into ASL.

During the 2010-2015 grant cycle, through the leadership of the MARIE Center, the NCIEC will build on the products from the previous cycle and engage in further activities including:

  • Expanding the Best Practices document to include practices associated with interpreting in immigration settings.
  • Creating a digitized dictionary of legal terms and signs;
  • Sponsorship of training initiatives for Deaf interpreters;
  • Sponsorship of an annual advanced training for legal interpreters;
  • Sponsorship of SC:L certification preparation trainings;
  • Development of training materials for educating the judiciary; and,
  • Development of a website with resources for legal interpreters and the judiciary.

The goal of the Consortium is to advance the number and quality of interpreters qualified to provide services in legal settings.

Additional Resources
For additional resources on Legal Interpreting, visit our Resources pages.