Language Barriers and Connecting With Clients

Posted by Benjamin P. Melnick | Nov 20, 2020 | 0 Comments

Even under the best of circumstances, there is a constant struggle for personal injury attorneys to help forge a connection between our clients, their stories, and a judge, jury, arbitrator, or other party involved in their case.  For me, part of what makes this career rewarding is providing access to justice and access to the courts to people who might not otherwise have it. This includes people who cannot afford an attorney, people who might be unfamiliar with the legal system, and people who do not speak English as a primary language, to name a few. However, I have some concerns that, even with access through an attorney, the systems are still not set up to serve those people.

Our office represents many non-English-speakers and people who speak another language as their primary language. Sometimes we use friends and family members to interpret. Other times, like in more formal court, discovery, or arbitration settings, we might engage the services of an interpreter. A good interpreter can make a difficult process a lot smoother. Even the best interpreters cannot help forge the human connection that comes with individuals communicating directly with one another. That is true for witnesses and our clients.

This is apparent in a deposition, for example. As we have covered in previous posts, a deposition is an important piece of a personal injury case. It allows the defense to learn information about the injured person and the claim. It also allows the Defense to see what type of witness the injured person might make, assessing credibility and how persuasive or well the injured person might present.

That second piece, witness presentation, is a lot harder to gauge when it is filtered through an interpreter. How can a defense attorney, arbitrator, or a jury connect with a person when they cannot communicate?

There is not a perfect answer, but courts, state bar associations, and the culture are gradually shifting towards a better understanding of how we can connect on a human level when parts of our brain want to try and resist it. It's a long road ahead, but it's very satisfying when those variables come together in a way that allows our clients to be understood.

About the Author

Benjamin P. Melnick

Ben Melnick joined the firm in 2018. He graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelor's degree in 2010, and went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from Gonzaga University School of Law. In 2016, he was named as the Clark County Bar Association's Rising Star. His practice focuses on personal injury, auto accidents, biking accidents, wrongful death, and insurance disputes. Outside work, Ben likes spend time with his wife outdoors—mostly running, hiking, and skiing—and playing soccer.


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