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Interpreting Communities: Lawyering Across Language Difference

90 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2007 Last revised: 2 Feb 2008

Muneer I. Ahmad

Yale Law School


As the rapid growth of immigrant communities in recent years transforms the demography of the United States, language diversity is emerging as a critical feature of this transformation. Poor and low-wage workers and their families in the aggressively globalized U.S. economy increasingly are Limited English Proficient, renewing longstanding debates about language diversity. 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 reconceptualization 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.

Keywords: interpreters, community interpreting, community lawyering, lawyering, language difference, legal services, poverty lawyering, immigration, immigrants' rights, access to justice

JEL Classification: I30, I32, J15, K40, L31

Suggested Citation

Ahmad, Muneer I., Interpreting Communities: Lawyering Across Language Difference. UCLA Law Review, Vol. 54, No. 999, 2007; NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 07/08-14; American University, WCL Research Paper No. 08-19. Available at SSRN:

Muneer I. Ahmad (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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