Although Los Angeles probate attorneys can provide valuable advice during the probate process, the language barriers that often exist in Los Angeles can pose a challenge. With probate being a complicated process and each state having different rules regarding how the process will go, it is important for probate attorneys to be able to overcome any language barriers that may exist with clients.
The diverse population in Los Angeles
As most people are aware, a large portion of the population in Los Angeles was born outside of the United States and many of those people are unable to communicate in English. For example “Little Tokyo,” which consists of five large city blocks, is an ethnically Japanese American area in downtown Los Angeles. It has been reported that the majority of the population residing in Little Tokyo are considered “linguistically isolated.” This fact can create significant barriers to the access of legal services.
A growingly diverse country
According to the Census Bureau, our country will likely become a “minority-majority” country by 2048. That means minorities could make up the majority of the American population before the middle of the century. For that reason, Los Angeles probate attorneys and attorneys everywhere need to take very seriously the need to effectively represent their clients, regardless of their English language proficiency.
The challenge of representing clients with language barriers
With the constantly shifting demographics in the United States, in conjunction with the increase of business ties between foreign and domestic businesses, attorneys are increasingly finding themselves with clients who have limited English proficiency. This includes Los Angeles probate attorneys. Nevertheless, attorneys need to remember their ethical obligation to communicate with their clients effectively, regardless of any language barrier that may exist.
Addressing the need for effective communication
Attorneys should not be discouraged from representing clients simply because they do not speak English. Instead, attorneys should consider using interpreters. Many states have addressed the use of interpreters in attorney-client communications through their ethics rules and opinions. For example, California has a rule that relates specifically to the expected professional conduct of interpreters.
In addition to interpreters, law firms that routinely represent clients of a particular ethnicity can hire attorneys or staff who are fluent in that language. So, if the majority of your non-language speaking clients speak Spanish, then it is wise to hire someone to work in your office who can translate for Spanish-speaking clients.
Be sure to protect attorney-client confidentiality
Although it is more difficult to find legal interpreters for some of the more common languages, attorneys still have a responsibility to find a way to effectively communicate with their clients while maintaining the required attorney-client confidentiality. While at the initial client interview, a friend or relative can act as interpreter. But, from that point on some method of confidential communication must be established. Otherwise, you risk maintaining client confidentiality, which prevents proper representation. Clients need to be able to disclose information to their attorneys without any concern for confidentiality. This is critical to the success of a client’s case.
What if an attorney cannot find an interpreter?
It is not always easy to find an interpreter, even for some of the more common languages. When that happens, another option to consider is using a telephonic interpreting service. However, keep in mind that these types of interpreting services can be very expensive. Therefore, many low-income clients will probably not be able to afford these services. Los Angeles probate attorneys may need to get creative in finding services to assist their clients, such as locating someone who may be willing to donate their interpreting services.
Other low-cost options for interpreter services . . . but beware!
It may be tempting to use a free online translation service, but some experts caution against this option. Primarily that is because interpretation is not simply the action of substituting words. Interpreters do not merely translate words, they have to translate meaning which also involves understanding and interpreting relevant cultural nuances.
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