Guidelines for Freelance Interpreters

The following guidelines are intended to facilitate the harmonious and professional functioning of the SDNY Interpreters Office while preserving the convivial and welcoming atmosphere for which the Office is noted.


A contract is required by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to ensure the continual availability of funds for court interpreting services and to create more uniformity in the standard operating procedures for contract interpreters in each judicial district.

Freelance interpreters who provide services to this Court can download the contract and submit it online, by fax, by mail or in person.

FBI Background Checks

Effective May 16, 2005, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO) requires Federal Courts to conduct mandatory background checks on all contract interpreters. This background check, renewable every two years, is performed by the FBI, based on a fingerprint check done in one of the 94 U.S. District Courts (see:; Federal Court Interpreter Orientation Manual and Glossary: B. FBI Background Checks). AO security personnel do not process/upload results from other agencies.

FBI Background Check Policy in the Southern District of New York (SDNY)

When a contract interpreter’s FBI background check is complete, the results appear on the National Court Interpreter Database (NCID), accessible to every Federal District Court. Each District Court must determine the suitability of an interpreter to work as a contractor.

In accordance with AO directives, contract interpreters with valid FBI clearance obtained through another Federal District are not required to undergo an additional background check in order to work in the Southern District of New York. Their suitability to work in this Courthouse, however, is determined by the Clerk of Court or District Executive, based on the results of the background check.

In 2012, as a security measure, the District Executive implemented a policy regarding the issuance of SDNY photo IDs to contract interpreters. Active SDNY contract interpreters may be issued an ID as long as they are fingerprinted in the Southern District of New York. The District Executive’s Office will not issue an ID to any interpreter who has not been fingerprinted in this District, has never been contracted by this Court, or is not expected to be contracted by this Court, regardless of the interpreter's clearance status. Contract interpreters who display a valid SDNY photo ID at the lobby security station are permitted to enter the courthouse with their mobile device.

Personal Information

Please keep us informed of any updated contact information, including new e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

Beginning of Contract Day

Most judges' first cases begin at 9:30 a.m., although cases may be scheduled earlier. Contract interpreters are expected to be in the Interpreters Office at least 15 minutes before the start time of their first assignment, unless other arrangements have been agreed to.

Signing In

Upon arrival, contract interpreters should sign in the book near the main window. Upon completion of their assignments, interpreters should sign out.

Computerized Schedule

The online schedule and relevant case information are viewable on the computers in the freelance area. Please check the screen pereiodically to see if there have been any scheduling changes, and report any additional assignments (cellblock interviews requested at last minute) to the office.

Courtroom Locations

Judges are listed alphabetically with their courtroom locations on the print-outs that are posted at computer stations. Please refer to the posted list to locate your courtroom.


Be Prompt

Interpreters should plan on getting to the courtroom ten minutes prior to each assignment. Equipment may need to be checked and other details taken care of.

Simultaneous Interpreting Equipment

Courtrooms are equipped with transmitters and microphones, and the office provides compatible wireless headsets for you to bring with you to each assignment. Please use the interpreting equipment whenever possible, and return headsets to the rack when you are done.

Several of the courtrooms at 40 Foley Square have poor acoustics. If you have an assignment in a courtroom in this building, take an extra headset for yourself so you can listen to the courtroom on channel one while you interpret over channel two.


Business attire is required. Interpreters should never look sloppy or haphazard in appearance. Sneakers, flip-flops, or other informal shoewear are not permitted, unless you have a medical reason. Men are expected to wear jackets and ties.

Contracted Time

Freelance interpreters are hired on a half-day or full-day basis for the court and should not make other appointments, whether professional or personal, for the contracted time period.

If you are not able to satisfy a full day's obligation because of family or other commitments, make this fact known to the office in advance of accepting an assignment. In the event of an unanticipated crisis, notify the office immediately, and plans will be made so that you may be substituted, permitting you to leave as soon as feasible.


If a case is canceled or adjourned without notice, interpreters need to report back to the office for reassignment.

Lunch time

Most judges break for lunch between 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm, but lunchtime is sometimes shortened or skipped in the interest of finishing a case. It is understood that interpreters must follow the court's direction in this regard. The office will always try to arrange for you to have time for lunch if you inform us of the judge's schedule as soon as you know it. Special medical considerations should be brought to the office's attention before the assignment.

End of Contract Day

Upon completion of your assignment, check in with Interpreter staff. If you are assigned to cover new arrests, inquire whether you will be needed for bond signing before leaving the Magistrate area. If it is announced that an interpreter will be needed the next day for Pretrial Services, bond signing, or for a court appearance, please advise the requesting party to notify the Interpreters Office via e-mail as soon as possible..


Interpreters assigned to trials in pairs are both obligated to remain in the courtroom to assist each another throughout the day's proceedings. Both are to report back to the office before leaving for the day, unless prior arrangements have been made with the supervisor. Occasionally, an interpreter may be needed in another courtroom, and a trial team will be temporarily separated. Avoid absenting yourself from the courtroom for more than 5-10 minutes except during court-authorized breaks. Your teammate may require your assistance, or counsel may need you to interpret client consultations.

Claim forms

To avoid a delay in processing, please submit claim forms at the end of each work day. If you are working on the same case all week, the form can be filled out on day three. Information should be legible and complete. If you have not received payment after 5-6 weeks following your assignment, contact us, and we will follow up.

Cell and Office Phone Use

There is a courtesy phone in the Interpreters Office for brief, local calls. Interpreters should be courteous of others when using cell phones in the office by keeping their voices low and setting the phone at vibrate or low.  Local Court rules prohibit the use of cell phones in any public area of the courthouse.

Office Computers and Work Space

There are four computers in the freelance waiting area for your use. If you need help logging ion, staff will assist you.  Please access the online interpreter schedule to obtain the case information for your assignment. Beside each computer are instructions for accessing case-related documents on PACER.  

Your payment claim form should be created and filed in your personal electronic folder. To access the jail clearance for, FBI background check form, and case related documents, go to: Freelance Folders\Additional Forms.

Court policy prohibits the use of these computers for personal business or entertainment. The Court likewise forbids the use of fax machines, photo copiers, printers, scanners, etc., for any purpose other than official court business.

Security policy forbids the use of the staff interpreters' computers by non-staff and the sharing of usernames and passwords.

Work carrels may be used on a first come, first served basis. Please be considerate and clean your space before you leave. Lockers may also be used on a first come, first served basis. Locks are to be provided by the user.

Conversations in the office should be conducted in a low voice, as befits an office environment.

Perfumes, colognes, and other scented products

There are full-time workers in our office who are extremely sensitive to chemicals typically found in perfumes, colognes, soaps, and in hair-care and other products. We respectfully ask you to be mindful of this.

Reference Library

The office has a well-stocked reference library in which subject areas are clearly labeled. All are welcome to use reference materials (and contribute to them), but please put the books back where you found them.

Tea, Coffee, Snacks

Staff interpreters routinely make available tea and snacks on the pantry counter for the enjoyment of all. Please cooperate by replenishing tea, milk, sugar and other supplies. If you use cups or other dishes, please clean and dispose of them.


For those who accept assignments at correctiontal institutions, remember to check that your status is current at the MCC and MDC, and know when you need to renew your annual clearance. Our office will gladly sign and submit your form to the BOP. Keep a dated copy of the form you send in and follow up with the MCC Legal Department to make sure that your name is on the list.

Representation of Interpreter Qualifications

If there is no federal certification in your language, do not identify yourself as a "certified" interpreter on the claim form, your business card, or on the record. Interpreters of languages other than Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Navajo should identify themselves in this district as "approved (or qualified) by the SDNY." We remind you that contract interpreters are "registered," not "certified by the New York State and New Jersey Courts.

Useful Links and Contact Information

SDNY public website:

SDNY external e-mail:

Interpreters Office: (212) 805-0084

MCC Legal Dept.:  (646) 836-6455,6466,6458

CJA Office:  (212) 805-0640

Federal Defenders:  (212) 417-8700

U.S. Courts website:

Interpreter Manual and Glossary:


Feel free to address any questions to the interpreter staff.