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Federal Court Interpreter Salary: Real Figures

How high is federal court interpreter salary? For people who are interested in working within legal system one of the best options is to be a federal court interpreter. They are needed to translate speech during trials and court proceedings where one or some of participants do not speak English language.

The field of legal translation is rather varied and there are several job and training options for those who wish to pursue this career. The growing interest in court interpreting can also be explained by the increasing demand for such professionals as many non-English speakers every year move to the US. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, the entire field of interpretation and translation is expected to grow by 19% in the following 10 years.

Federal Court Interpreter Jobs

Depending on language pair, certification, and mastery of translation skill the Administrative Office of the United States Courts identifies three different categories of court professionals:

1. Certified interpreter

This option is currently available for following language pairs: English-Spanish, English-Navajo, and English-Haitian Creole. In order to become a certified interpreter needs to enroll in a certification program by the Administrative Office. At the end of program, you needs to pass a certification exam after which he/she will be able to work in the court setting. Process of examination of English-Spanish interpreters consists of written and oral exams while for English-Navajo and English-Haitian Creole there is no clearly established procedure and enrollment and certification take place based on the needs of each specific court.

2. Professionally qualified interpreter

For other language pairs that are not included in the list of the Administrative Office federal court interpreter certification examination, there is an option to become a professionally qualified interpreter. It is the category of language professionals who have not been certified by the Administrative Office but whose exceptional skills have been recognized by the top-ranked interpreting organizations. So, in order to become a professionally qualified interpreter, the applicant needs to achieve at least one of the following: in the needed language pair, pass the U.S. Department of State conference or seminar test or test of the United Nations, be a current member of The American Association of Language Specialists (TAALS), or the Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence (AIIC).

3. Language skilled interpreter

As seen from definitions of a certified and professionally qualified interpreter, not all potentially needed language pairs can be covered by these two categories, and not always such professionals are available to be present on a trial or court proceeding. So sometimes there is a need for a language skilled (ad hoc) interpreter. It is a category of federal court interpreters that describes professionals whose mastery of skill is sufficient enough to meet the needs of the given court. Typically, rates of ad hoc court interpreters are lower in comparison to those of a certified and professionally qualified interpreter.

Federal Court Interpreter Certification Process

To become a certified interpreter in Spanish-English language pair and receive decent federal court interpreter salary one needs to a to-part exam by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts consisting of written and oral examination. This process is rather long as it takes a minimum of two years since two parts of the exam are organized in alternating years. Written part consists of two sections, the first is the English one and, respectively, second one is in Spanish. In order to pass both examinations, an applicant needs to score a minimum of 75% on each of them.

Apart from the mastery of both English and Spanish and excellent interpretation skills to pass both parts of the examination and become a federal court certified interpreter an applicant needs to demonstrate the profound knowledge of the legal system of the United States and specific terms of courts and judiciary domains. Those who are interested and would like to test their abilities can try self-assessment tools on website of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE). With these tools, prospective interpreters in the legal field can measure their level of preparedness for profession of a court interpreter and roughly estimate their chances on certification exam. This self-assessment can also be very helpful in pointing out skills and knowledge areas that need improvement before applying for certification. 

Federal Court Interpreter Salary Range

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2019, the average salary of translators and interpreters is $51,830 per year, which is $24.92 per hour. It is a bit higher across all the professions in the US. As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports from May 2019, average hourly rate among all occupations is only $19.14. So it can be concluded that language industry is one of the higher-paid ones. 

The average annual wage of court interpreters, in particular, is between $30,000 and $80,000. Such a drastic range in salary is determined by several important wage constituting factors. For example, if the court is federal interpreter can expect to earn more than their colleagues in a state court. One of the most important of them is experience. Interpreters in the industry with less than 5 years of experience can expect to earn about $40,000 annually. Those who work as court interpreters between 5 and 10 years usually have a bit higher salary of $43,000. While the highest earning are professionals with over 10 years of experience as on average they make approximately $63,000.

Another important factor in constituting the salary of interpreters in the legal field is the workplace. Depending on whether a court is state or federal interpreter rates can differ considerably. Qualification is another decisive factor in determining one’s salary. Administrative Office of the United States Courts states that certified and professionally qualified interpreters working in federal courts on a contractual basis earn $418 daily, $226 for a half-day and their overtime rate is $59 per hour. By contrast, language-skilled language specialists make $202 for a day, $111 for a half-day, and their hourly overtime rate is only $35.

Training Programs for Court Interpreters

Job of a court interpreter requires one to be able to translate both specific legal terms and everyday language. Moreover, one needs to demonstrate field knowledge in law and the legal system of the US and the country of the second language. It means that the general education in interpreting and translation will not be enough to meet the requirements to pass certification. So in addition to a bachelor’s or master’s degree in interpreting, one might need to seek specialized training. If one is thinking about how to become a court translator or interpreter, the good idea would be to start with the official website of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters. It can help to get a more comprehensive view of the language industry in the legal field.

One might find the appropriate court interpreting university programs at:

Those who have already obtained their degree in interpreting and translation can seek additional training courses at:

Court Interpreter Jobs Opportunities

One of the best options is to work on a contractual basis in court, because be it state or federal interpreter salary, in this case, is considerably higher. Another way is to work in the field as freelancer, which would be more suitable for translators whose language pair is less frequent in trials and court proceedings. Working in some states with not much linguistically diverse population, one might work freelance as conference interpreter. 

Given the constant growth of the language industry, in particular, choosing a career in one of its fields is extremely attractive because of high federal court interpreter salary. Court interpreting might be of special interest to those language specials who are passionate about the law or have profound knowledge about it. To maximize one’s salary, depending on the chosen language pair, it is recommended either to get certified by the Administrative Office of the US Courts or by some organization such as TAALS.