Legal Interpretation 101: A Helpful Guide

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

Scheduling an interpreter for a legal assignment can be very important if the witness does not speak English as their native language. There are freelance interpreters and interpretation agencies in the marketplace that can help. The most common reasons to schedule an interpreter are for depositions, trial, or witness interviews.

Below are some key considerations you should think about when you need to schedule an interpreter.

Travel and scarcity

Interpreters are humans and cannot appear out of thin air. Depending on what language is needed, there may not be a qualified interpreter in the location of the assignment. Keep in the back of your mind there is a chance you need to bring an interpreter in from a neighboring city.

Relevant experience

Not all interpreters are good fits for assignments. If you expect to have a contentious deposition, it may be worth finding an interpreter with relevant deposition experience that can take the heat.


Interpreters often work with multiple agencies and clients. If you book an interpreter in advance, there will be a cancellation fee if your assignment changes date. This is because the interpreter likely turned down another assignment to take yours. Respect the cancellation policy.

Interview before hiring

If the assignment is high risk, you may consider interviewing interpreters before selecting them. Good interpretation or relevant experience can be critical with the outcome of a deposition, trial, or interview, so make sure you review CVs and take the opportunity to interview where you can. Most interpreters will do 15 minutes for free.

Subject matter

This may seem obvious, but some subject matters in legal cases can get very technical, IP litigation is a good example. Make sure your interpreter is very well versed in the subject matter you will be discussing. Do not hire a generalist if you plan to discuss mechanical engineering in trial.

Hourly, half-day, full-day

These are the standard units of measure an interpreter will charge. Typically, there is a minimum number of hours you need to commit to if you pay hourly. If a half-day starts late morning and ends early afternoon, you may be required to pay the interpreter a full day’s rate since they will not be able to take another assignment that day.


Onsite legal interpretation can be critical, technical, and highly contentious. Make sure you vet and plan accordingly. If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.

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