Towson lawyer Jeff Scholnick started a blog aiding fellow lawyers with Spanish Speaking clients. This blog has been written by Maryland Spanish speaking lawyer Jeremy Eldridge as a guest blog for Spanish4Lawyers.com.
Most courtroom personnel have become accustomed to relying on a Court certified interpreter to ensure that a non-English speaking defendant grasps what is happening in Court. Outside of the courtroom however, a lawyer does not have the same luxury.
As a Maryland Spanish speaking lawyer, I handle a large number of cases for Latino clients. Albeit I am a Maryland Spanish speaking lawyer, I still encounter problems explaining issues to my clients, such as the nature of complex criminal charges.
It is universally understood that each Spanish speaking country has a different vocabulary, colloquialisms, and slang. Moreover, every client of a lawyer for who English is a second language has a different educational background, reading comprehension level, and different levels of literacy. Thus, showing the client a charging document written in English serves little to no purpose at all. The Courts, however, are making more of an effort to produce documents in the Spanish language, but that assumes that clients are literate.
Here are a few tips for lawyers to effectively communicate with a Spanish-speaking client:
- Speak as simply as possible, and try to abstain from using any slang, professional jargon, or acronyms
- Have clients rephrase what they think they heard you say. This is much better than asking, “Do you all understand?,” and eventually receiving unsatisfactory outcomes.
- Speak clearly and enunciate properly, also pausing before and after significant words can help improve communication between yourself and the client
- Speaking loudly is not speaking clearly, it’s just speaking loudly!
- If you do not speak Spanish at all, try to learn the following phrases:
- I don’t speak Spanish. – No hablo Español.
- Is there someone here who speaks English? – ¿Hay alguien aquí que hable inglés?
- Can you repeat, please? – Repite, por favor.
- Please speak slowly. – Lentamente, por favor.
- How do you say … in Spanish? – ¿Cómo se dice … en español?
- Do you understand? – ¿Entiende Usted?
These phrases will get you out of difficulty or keep conversation flowing, depending on how well you speak Spanish. If you do not speak Spanish at all or need some help with pronunciation, there are many websites with free resources so you can hear the correct pronunciation. Google has a great free translation tool, so I would recommend starting there. If you still feel that your client does not understand what information you need to convey, then do not be embarrassed, and ask for the interpreter’s help when you arrive to court.