April 2011 Bar Bulletin
SU Taking the Lead on Language Access Issues
By Gillian Dutton and Kristi Cruz
Seattle University School of Law's commitment to educating outstanding lawyers who are leaders for a just and humane world includes training them to represent clients with whom they do not share a language.
Language barriers can lead to inaccurate fact-finding and erroneous court records, with devastating outcomes for limited English proficient (LEP) persons. An awareness of language access issues is critical to an attorney's ability to effectively represent LEP clients. SU is committed to training lawyers to be aware of the impact language barriers can have on a client's case.
The law school has lived out this mission in many ways. In 2002, in partnership with King County court interpreters, the law school began training law students on how to work with interpreters. In 2005, members of the Access to Justice Institute participated in a six-state summit sponsored by the Department of Justice where advocates, interpreters and government agencies met to coordinate work to improve access to services for LEP persons.
In 2008, the law school awarded its inaugural Leadership for Justice Fellowship to a project aimed at addressing language access barriers in Washington. That same year, the Ronald A. Peterson Law Clinic implemented a language access policy and began to train all clinic students to work with interpreters becoming one of only a few clinical programs in the country to create an LEP policy and to provide this training.
In 2010, when the American Bar Association embarked on a project to develop national language access standards for courts, it turned to the expertise at SU and retained Externship Director Gillian Dutton and Language Access Fellow Kristi Cruz to work as consultants on the project. Both have broad experience in this field.
Dutton, assistant professor of lawyering skills, has worked in the area of language access since becoming an attorney in 1988 and is a founding member of the Washington State Coalition for Language Access (WASCLA). She is known nationally for her work on behalf of LEP clients and has worked with state and federal agencies to improve services. In 1991, with other attorneys at Evergreen Legal Services, she negotiated a settlement with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, which is still a high-water mark in the provision of interpreter and translation services.
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