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. However, while I am a lawyer that speaks Spanish, 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.
A Spanish Speaking Lawyer’s Tips to Communicating to Spanish-Speaking Clients
- Speak as simply as possible. 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?”. Then eventually receiving unsatisfactory outcomes.
- Speak clearly and enunciate properly. 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!
Phrases for Non-Spanish Speaking Lawyers to Learn
- 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. 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. Simply ask for the interpreter’s help when you arrive at court.
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 and originally posted on Spanish4Lawyers.com.