Professor Jayesh Rathod - "Attorney Bilingualism: Practicing What We Preach"

Faculty Scholarship Highlight, February 2013


Professor Jayesh Rathod - "Attorney Bilingualism: Practicing What We Preach"

 

As Associate Professor Jayesh Rathod notes in “The Transformative Potential of Attorney Bilingualism,” forthcoming in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, the U.S. legal culture has historically undervalued the utility of bilingual lawyers, assuming that the principal utility of such training is in allowing lawyers to work more efficiently and to pursue a broader range of professional opportunities. In fact, Rathod explains, attorney bilingualism can do much, much more. Thus, he posits that attorneys who operate bilingually may, over time, enjoy cognitive advantages such as enhanced creative thinking and problem-solving abilities, a more analytical orientation to language, and greater communicative sensitivity. Moreover, the existence of lawyers who are fully immersed in the bilingual practice of law could transform and invigorate interactions between attorneys and limited English proficient (LEP) clients, and more broadly among attorneys, the parties to a proceeding, and legal decision-makers.

More than a just phenomenon to study in his scholarship, Rathod’s teaching instantiates this idea. In his immigration law survey class this semester, for example, Rathod offers students an optional fourth credit for an additional hour of instruction each week conducted entirely in Spanish, which features (1) discussion of, and practice in articulating substantive immigration law, and relevant legal procedures, to Spanish-speaking clients; (2) discussion of, and practice in counseling Spanish-speaking clients with immigration-related legal concerns; (3) ongoing discussion, in Spanish, of issues and questions raised by the assigned course readings; and (4) review of Spanish language vocabulary needed to communicate with clients about immigration law. As Rathod notes, the idea is not simply a “Spanish for lawyers” course, but rather a more rigorous effort to prepare students for the practice of immigration law—and of law more generally—in both English and Spanish, not just so that students can diversify their practice upon graduating from American University Washington College of Law, but so that, as bilingual lawyers, they can make contributions to their client’s cases and to the development of the law that, all things being equal, monoglots cannot.