The Couch

The Couch – Going Beyond Agencies

The Couch is back. This is a space where we can share our doubts, our knowledge and help our colleagues. All data that might make the parties or case identifiable have been removed.
Please note: all contributions should be sent to the Editor and not entered in the comments.

Our colleague has decided that agency work alone is not enough to cover the bills. And since she is not a staff interpreter, she is wondering if it is ok to start promoting herself and what is the best way to do it.

figure sitting on top of a giant question markThe questions are many, so we are going to share only a few. Please reply in the comments below and be as complete as you can, providing links and suggesting reading materials, if possible.

Question #1: Where am I going to find direct clients? Can I write to lawyers and offer my services?

Question #2: How much above what the agency offers should I charge? Is 25% ok? I heard they actually charge the clients double what they pay us, but I can’t believe that.

Question #3: Will I need a website? I don’t even know if it is going to work…

Question #4: Are there any ethical concerns I should look out for?

We will stop here. The knowledge base among us is enough to set our colleague on the right path. Here’s looking forward to your comments.

7 thoughts on “The Couch – Going Beyond Agencies”

  1. Michelle Kusuda says:

    Agencies use the CVs of qualified interpreters to submit proposals to secure jobs and then give the jobs to interpreters who are not even certified and/or charge less. Answers 1) Of course you can write to lawyers, and pass your card around to your acquaintances, networking is key.
    2) Agencies normally pay interpreters only 55-60% of what they charge final client. 3) Website is always helpful. 4) Ethical concerns? Act ethically in all your transactions.

  2. Clarence E. Williamson says:

    The questions presented are excellent. I look forward to viewing answers to them.

  3. Mike Z. says:

    Here’s my 2 cents:
    1. In several states, if you work as a court interpreter frequently you can meet attorneys & network. Don’t underestimate your relationship with fellow interpreters-they can be one of your best networking sources. Also, try contacting staff/contract attorney offices for insurance companies. Last but not least, court reporters can be a great referral. 2. Some agencies can be very aggressive-aggressive in maxing their profit while bargaining your fees down as much as possible. So, using a 25% premium over what agencies pay you may not be a good indicator. Oftentimes, if you are a credentialed interpreter, you’ll be the last one agencies will contact to avoid paying higher rates. Of course, there are reputable agencies out there that are concerned about their reputation & are willing to pay higher rates for credentialed interpreters that will represent their agencies well. I suggest using that 25% premium over the NCSC published rates that state courts pay their interpreter & start from there. 3. Website will tell clients that you are legit & provide additional visibility about you but normally, don’t expect a lot of biz from it, UNLESS you’re willing to pay $$$ marketers for strategic ways to upgrade your visibility. Additionally, I suggest getting your name on court website interpreter rosters, ATA, NAJIT, etc. for a boost. 4. Ibid – Michelle Kusuda

  4. Goli Khatibloo says:

    1) Hand out your card at attorney conventions or other large annual meeting places. Sending out letters to attorneys directly might be time consuming, but worth a try. Court reporters are a good source of information; ask them which agency has sent them and request their phone number.
    2) Agencies definitely charge the client double what they pay you. They are in this business to make money. They will always go for the cheapest, but not the best, interpreter. I think 25-30% is fair.
    3) A website could be helpful.
    4) Being ethical is always a concern, but if you think straight and logically, you should be fine.

  5. J L says:

    Question #1: Where am I going to find direct clients? Can I write to lawyers and offer my services?

    Sure, so long as they’re not clients of agencies you’ve signed a non-compete with. Check your agency agreement, some I’ve seen don’t mention you not soliciting opposing counsel, or the counsel of other parties attending assignments, so you might be allowed to at least give business cards to those, but ask first regardless of what the document says. Back when I worked with more agencies I would always ask them upfront if I could discreetly give other (not their client) attorneys/investigators my business card. They knew I was not after their clients (especially since I’d ask in advance) and I don’t think I was ever turned down. Oh, and I mention the non-compete agreements, because I’ve read many of them, but I never sign them anymore. They are just about always poorly written and wind up being over-reaching, so I always bring up these issues, posing hypothetical scenarios where the NCA would not allow me to work despite the agency not being involved at all, and we usually manage to get the language removed, If they’re not willing to remove it or modify it to be less oppressive, then I take that as them not really having my best interests in mind. If the agency and the interpreter are honest, what we both want is : I promise to not intentionally solicit an entity that I knew beforehand was a client of the agency. That’s it. At the end of the day, if someone wants to steal clients they will, NCA or not, and if an attorney wants to skip the agency they will also. I won’t sign my business away though, no matter how unenforceable the NCA might be.

    Question #2: How much above what the agency offers should I charge? Is 25% ok? I heard they actually charge the clients double what they pay us, but I can’t believe that.

    I see agencies as a service provider to my company. In a sense they handle advertising and collections for a segment of my business. In other words, they find clients and go after them to get paid, keeping a percentage of the proceeds as payment for the service they provided me. So, a good agency will be one that has plenty of assignments offered to me and pays me on a set schedule regardless of if the attorneys have paid them. Add what these services would cost you to what you are used to getting paid from agencies and that will tell you how much you should charge for your particular business circumstances.

    Question #3: Will I need a website? I don’t even know if it is going to work…

    Websites are definitely a good idea, but more importantly a distinguishable domain name, especially for your email. Domains only cost 8 to 12 dollars per year. Many of free website options are available. Free email addresses (gmail, yahoo, etc) are just not as professional.

    Question #4: Are there any ethical concerns I should look out for?

    See my NCA comments above. Also, if you’ve interpreted for one party and months (years?!) later opposing counsel hires you for a witness, then that might be an issue. My MO is to be transparent about all of this. If I can remember that I might have done something related to this particular case (it’s all a blur so I often don’t) then I bring it up to all parties and let them decide how to proceed. In the world of criminal court we are often used interchangeably this way by both sides. Again, just be totally honest and let the higher ups decide. I’m more concerned about any bias I might feel for/against someone. If that ever happens (came close to that in a nasty trial a few years ago) I would recuse myself from the assignment.


  6. Sandra Lorant-Lecanne says:

    I am in the same boat as you! Working with agencies don’t cover my bills since the work is not on a regular basis. I can have great months and then for 3 months, this is horrible! I am a French>English freelance translator specialized in the legal field. I can translate but when it comes to finding direct clients, this is another planet for me. I am terrible at selling and marketing myself. I was born in France and left when I was 21 to go to the US where I lived for 20 years. Now, I am in Italy and finding direct clients here is not a walk in the park! I am taking continuing education courses online with NYU so I can acquire better knowledge in other areas but the marketing is not my cup of tea. I contacted many law firms in France and still didn’t get one positive reply! I am still applying with agencies to find more work, although I do past their tests, work is very slow.

  7. Gio Lester says:

    So many good ideas! And questions.

    Well, regarding a website (question #3), as a member of NAJIT you can use the URL for your profile as your online presence. There are also other free online directories you can use just to have a website. An idea I give my mentees is for them to create a profile on It can also be used as an email signature.

    Good luck!

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