Promoting Language Access in the Legal Academy
University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class, Forthcoming
37 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2013 Last revised: 4 Nov 2014
Date Written: January 1, 2013
Since the 1960s, the United States government has paid increasing attention to the rights of language minorities and to the need for greater civic and political integration of these groups. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the issuance of Executive Orders, and intervention by the federal judiciary, progress has been made in the realm of language access. State and local courts have likewise taken steps (albeit imperfectly) to provide interpretation and translation assistance to Limited English Proficient persons. Most recently, responding to both lack of services and inconsistent practices, the American Bar Association has set out national guidelines on the subject.
As language access rises in importance – within the government as a whole, and the legal system in particular – law schools have begun to develop strategies to promote language access within the academy. These strategies serve multiple purposes: to prepare students to identify, and respond to, issues of language difference in the context of legal work; to ensure that the policies and practices of law schools comply with language access norms; and to foment student awareness and advocacy on language access, as a key social justice issue. Indeed, educating future lawyers involves not just teaching law students how to read a case, interview a client or draft a brief, it also includes introducing them to the numerous ways lawyers seek to participate in and improve the justice system. Promoting language access in the legal academy offers numerous opportunities to expose students to a diverse set of organizations and skills, and to a community of advocates who have engaged on these issues.
This article describes some innovations and best practices relating to language access in the legal academy. It opens with a description of the salience of language access in the current political moment, noting recent demographic trends, and the political importance of language access. It discusses the contemporary salience of language access and the ABA’s 2012 Standards for Language Access in Courts. The article reviews various models for incorporating language access into the law school curriculum, in both doctrinal and experiential settings, and positions bilingual instruction as a language access strategy. The authors describe how law schools can expand the pipeline into the interpreter professions by training and deploying bilingual college students as community interpreters.
Keywords: Civil Rights, Language Access, Foreign Language Interpreters, Bilingual Education, Courts, Legal Education
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