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 have been contacted by the Chief Interpreter and asked to submit a contract should download the contract and submit it online, by fax, by mail or in person.

Beginning of Contract Day

Most judges' first cases begin at 9:30 a.m., but some cases start at 9:00 or 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 schedule is online and viewable on the computers in the freelance area. All relevant information is on the screen. Please check the screen periodically to see if there have been any scheduling changes, and report any additional assignments (cellblock interviews requested at last minute) to the office or staff interpreters.

Courtroom Locations

Judges are listed alphabetically with their courtroom locations on the print-outs that are posted all over the office. Please refer to the posted list rather than asking staff where the judges are — we have to look them up, too!

Be Prompt — and Practical!

Interpreters should plan on getting to the courtroom a few minutes prior to each assignment. Equipment may need to be checked and other details taken care of. While other personnel may be delayed, the interpreter should always be on time.

Simultaneous Interpreting Equipment

Nearly all the 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.

Be sure to return headphone batteries to the chargers and headphones to the rack when you are done with this equipment. If you find other interpreting equipment scattered about the area, we encourage you to contribute by properly storing that equipment as well.

Several of the courtrooms at 40 Foley Square have poor acoustics. If you have an assignment in a courtroom in this building, bring 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 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 a contract interpreter is not able to satisfy a full day's obligation because of family or other commitments, this fact should be made known to the office in advance of accepting an assignment. It is a breach of professional behavior to announce during the workday that an appointment (except of an emergency nature) requires one to leave early or to be absent for part of the work day. If hired for the full day, the interpreter is expected to remain on duty in the courthouse until 5:30 p.m., absent unusual circumstances.

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 immediately 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.

Due to the unpredictable nature of lunch breaks, it is strongly recommended that interpreters plan to have a good breakfast, especially if they will be working on a trial, since emerging matters can change schedules at the last moment.

End of Contract Day

No interpreter may leave the courthouse until the matter to which he has been assigned is completed or the court has excused him. Within normal working hours, (9 a.m.- 5:30 pm) contract interpreters should check back with the office before leaving the courthouse for the day.

Interpreters assigned to trials in pairs are both obligated to remain in court until the matter is completed for the day. Neither has the authority to excuse the other. Both are to report back to the office before leaving for the day, unless prior arrangements have been made with the supervisor.


When two interpreters are assigned to a trial, both are to remain in the courtroom to assist each another throughout the day's proceedings, unless prior arrangements have been made through the supervisor. (Occasionally, an interpreter may be needed in another courtroom and a trial team will be temporarily separated.) It is a breach of professional behavior to absent yourself from the courtroom for more than 5 minutes except during court-authorized breaks. Your team mate may require your assistance, or counsel may need you to interpret client consultations, or other unannounced needs may arise.

Pursuant to the policy of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the 24-hour cancellation policy does not apply to trials that are cancelled due to guilty pleas or verdicts that occur on the day of trial.


Vouchers should be completed at the end of each work day unless the interpreter is working on the same trial all week, in which case the voucher can be filled out at the end of the week. All information should be legible and complete.

Personal Phone Calls

There is a courtesy phone in the interpreter's office for local calls. Freelance interpreters should limit their phone calls to brief conversations.

Those who use cell phones in the office are requested to be courteous of others and keep their voices low. Cell phones should be set at vibrate or low.

Office Computers and Work Space

The office computers in the freelance waiting area are intended for viewing the interpreters' schedule. There is heavy foot traffic in and out of the office and scheduling information needs to be readily visible to all interpreters. Court policy prohibits the use of these computers for personal business or entertainment. If you use the computer for relevant research or any purpose other than consulting the schedule, return the web browser to the current day's schedule when you are done.

The Court likewise forbids the use of fax machines, photo copiers, printers, 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. Do not ask a staff interpreter to log you onto any staff interpreter's computer with her or his login.

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. While some interpreters are on a break, others are doing concentrated work on computers and can be distracted by loud voices. Telephone conversations can be hard to hear if others are too informal. Please be considerate of the staff, who are busy with administrative matters.

If you bring in newspapers, be sure to recycle them or take them with you at the end of the day.

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, and not come into our office after applying strongly scented products to yourself or your clothing.

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.

Please make sure to clean up newspapers and coffee cups from the library table so that the next person has a clean working surface.

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, clean and dispose of them properly. There is no cleaning staff for your personal debris.

Please dispose of your recyclable items in the recycle bins located at various points around the building. Do not discard recyclable items in the trash cans.


Feel free to address any questions to any of the staff interpreters.