Legal Interpreting: RID Standard Practices
by: Lisa Hendrickson, CI - NIR Coordinator
The governing body for American Sign Language interpreters, The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), produces Standard Practice Papers for each of its specialties; this includes the specialty of Legal interpreting. The RID first defines what Legal Interpreting may entail with regard to settings. The RID paper states, “…a legal interpreter’s work is not restricted to the courtroom. Rather, legal interpreting occurs during attorney- client conferences, investigations by law enforcement, depositions, witness interviews, real estate settlements, court-ordered treatment and education programs and administrative or legislative hearings”. In addition to these settings, interpreters must be aware that any assignment could become legal in nature during the course of the assignment. A Deaf high school student could be caught with a weapon in his backpack, a Deaf employee could be physically assaulted by a co-worker during a training session, or law enforcement could show up bedside after a Deaf driver is involved in a serious car accident. Many agencies and hiring entities have specific protocols to address these changes of events, but interpreters should always be prepared for these situations and flexible enough to handle them appropriately.
One complication that can present itself in any interpreting setting, but definitely more often in legal situations is the term “qualified interpreter.”
Many court systems and other legal-natured entities hire interpreters based on the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) definition of a “qualified interpreter” to mean one “who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary”. A possible issue with this is the fact that interpreters should also abide by their code of ethics which requires them to accept assignments judiciously based on their knowledge and skills, or competence in a specific area. For this reason, many interpreters choose not to work in these settings without first obtaining an SC:L, Specialist Certificate: Legal. These two viewpoints are not always in sync, and can cause misunderstandings and difficulties between the interpreter, the interpreting agency, and the legal parties.
Finally, standard practice for most assignments of a legal nature requires at least two interpreters, but best practice could require three. In a high-stakes setting such as a trial, or similar situation, an ideal team should consist of two hearing interpreters and a Certified Deaf Interpreter. The team works together to assess language, language needs, and check for accuracy in the interpretation.
Please feel free to leave comments below regarding other best practices within the genre of Legal Interpreting. Also, stay tuned for more Legal Interpreting topics to come!
Potterveld, T. (2012). Law enforcement interpreting for deaf persons. Alexandria, VA: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.
Standard Practice Papers. (2007). Retrieved February 21, 2019, from
If you are an interpreter in the Southeast Florida area, interested in freelance work and have availability days, nights, or weekends, we have a variety of assignments throughout the community (medical appts., evening/overnight hospital shifts, day/evening college classes, school districts, legal, etc.). Please visit our website and submit our New Interpreter Questionnaire.