As managing partner of the Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC Gainesville Attorney Gilbert J. Alba has always embraced his Latino heritage, particularly due to his ability to serve the Spanish-speaking members of our community. However, an often overlooked consideration is the benefit that his bilingualism offers to English-speaking clients as well. As you are reading this, you may be asking yourself—‘I speak English, why would I need a bilingual attorney?’ Well, actually, there are many advantages of selecting a lawyer that is fluent in more than one language.
Consider being injured in an accident, or being involved in a criminal matter, and then discovering that the only witness or a key witness needed to corroborate facts, is a person that does not speak English. In these situations, obtaining a favorable outcome may be dependent, at least in part, on your attorney’s ability to effectively address language barrier issues.
In example, from the viewpoint of a bilingual attorney, there should be immediate concern over the possibility of translation errors in any prior statements made by a witness, whether such statements were made to a party to the action, the police, an insurance company, or another person. This consideration is important, but one that may be overlooked by a legal professional that speaks only English. However, this is only one example of how a bilingual attorney can benefit their client. In practice, the value of a bilingualism, is found in the ability to identify, evaluate and overcome evidentiary issues at ALL stages of the claims process, particularly the litigation phase.
When a key factual witness does not speak English, the need for a bilingual attorney becomes increasingly vital the further along that a case progresses into the litigation phase. For example, where a non-English speaking witness will be providing testimony during deposition or trial, it is important to consider the manner in which bilingual lawyers are far more suited to both (1) ensure proper witness preparation prior to testimony; as well as (2) identify and address translation issues arising during testimony.
With regard to testimony preparation, fluency in both English, as well as a witness’s language, allows the ability to more effectively convey to a witness how to respond to inquiries presented, without the need for the attorney to hire a translator. As referenced by the author of ‘5 Ways Attorneys Can Break Through Language Barriers,’ Attorney Alba comments on the essential nature of proper witness preparation:
‘During that process, attorneys should try to install in the witness the need to simplify his or her testimony…It’s really important to avoid niche terms, avoid colloquialisms, words that don’t translate as the speaker intended them to.’
A bilingual attorney is also better equipped to identify circumstances where a witness’s testimony on a specific topic or issue, may be better if presented through alternate means, such as the use of an expert witness. Further, and in regard to language barrier and translation issues arising during testimony, it is important to keep in mind that for purposes of fairness to each party, the court will appoint the interpreter to be used in cases where a non-English speaking witness is providing testimony at trial. Having a lawyer that is bilingual will ensure that questions posed to a witness are correctly conveyed and that responses provided are properly translated.
Another benefit of bilingualism in terms of selecting a legal representative, is found in the capacity to assess language barrier issues in general, even in cases where a witness speaks a language outside of that attorney’s lingual fluency. Stated differently, an attorney that has handled prior cases involving witness language barriers from a bilingual viewpoint, is in a better position to identify potential issues, and address them in a way most suitable to a client’s needs. Like many other bilingual lawyers, Attorney Alba’s dual fluency, continues to contribute to his professional development as a respected member of the legal community.