Thursday, September 27, 2007

When You Don't Speak the Client's Language

At the NWIRP Gala Dinner on Saturday, there were some posters with facts like these (taken from NWIRP's website):

  • Washington is one of the top refugee resettlement states in the country.
  • NWRIP serves 10,000 clients a year from more than 100 countries.
  • One in eight people living in Seattle is foreign-born.
And "nearly 6,000 bilingual students, representing more than 80 languages, are enrolled in Seattle's public schools." Seattle Times, May 10, 2005.

So it's time to think about how language differences affect lawyering. And here's a law review article that does that: Muneer I. Ahmad, Interpreting Communities: Lawyering Across Language Difference, 54 UCLA L. Rev. 999 (2007). Here's the abstract:
* * * Poor and low-wage workers and their families in the aggressively globalized U.S. economy increasingly are Limited English Proficient * * *. And yet, despite a growing awareness of the challenges posed by limited English proficiency to the social, economic, political, and cultural well-being of poor immigrants today, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of language difference in poverty lawyering.

This Article confronts the complexities of lawyering across language difference. Starting with the principal model for poverty lawyering—client-centeredness—it suggests the inadequacy of the model for meeting the challenges of language difference, particularly when an interpreter is interposed in the paradigmatic lawyer-client dyad. After exploring the nature of interpretation and the role of interpreters, the Article argues in favor of a more collaborative relationship among lawyers, clients, and interpreters than is often seen in poverty law practice. Specifically, it suggests that the disruption effected by the introduction of an interpreter may be more productive than is typically realized, and invites a normative reconceptualiztion of the traditional lawyer-client relationship.

Ultimately, the Article urges the embrace of an emerging set of practices known as community interpreting, and argues that its increased attention to cultural context, third-party relationships, and community involvement is consistent with the methods and goals of community lawyering.
A pdf of the article is available at the link above.

1 comment: said...

It certainly takes a great deal of courage for an attorney to choose to represent a client from another culture, who does not even speak his language.

And while many well-meaning bilingual individuals may be willing to serve as community interpreters, it is advisable for the English-speaking lawyers who represent non-English clients to use services of professional court interpreters, who subscribe to the Code of Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters.

For more information on the role of foreign languages and cultures in the practice of law, visit my new blawg

Best regards,