Since 2007, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs (OCP) has sponsored a Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers (SPIL) non-credit course to help students learn Spanish language skills. Later, in response to demand, OCP introduced a separate SPIL class for clinicians, in addition to the class for students. The curriculum emphasizes commonly used language in civil and criminal legal services and aims to strengthen attorney-client relations. Over the years, various LL.M. students have taught the course. For the past year, it has been taught by Harvard Legal Aid Bureau alumnae Nicole Summers J.D. ’14.
“Nicole is an outstanding teacher, and she really has a great understanding of what kinds of exercises and vocabulary will be most useful and have a direct application to our different practice areas,” said Clinical Professor of Law, Susan Farbstein who teaches in the International Human Rights Clinic.
Anna Andreeva J.D. ’17, a student in the class, said that she has already gained the confidence to hold an interview with a client in Spanish.
Another student, a native Spanish speaker, Mario Nguyên J.D. ’17 is also taking the course. “My mother is from Mexico, and I worked and went to school in Mexico,” he said. “However, in law school we are introduced to words we didn’t know existed in English –much less Spanish. While taking this course I feel clients already trust me more because I have the words to explain their legal disposition in a language that is familiar to them.”
“Halfway through the summer a judge gave me just a few minutes to advise a Honduran couple on an important choice he needed them to make. We had a Spanish-speaking community organizer available to translate, but using my Spanish from class I was able to monitor and correct the translation and even skip it in many instances to make sure we fit the consultation into the short time allowed by the judge,” said Esme Caramello ’99, Clinical Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. “I don’t think I could have enabled the clients to make a fully informed decision had I not understood legal Spanish.”
Sabi Ardalan ’02, Lecturer on Law and Associate Director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic works with Spanish-speaking clients all the time. “My ability to communicate with them has improved tremendously as a result of the course,” she said. “It has given me the vocabulary necessary for all facets of representation, from rapport building to conducting client interviews to explaining the adjudication process. This course is truly unique, and Nicole is a phenomenal teacher! The course has also provided me with a fantastic opportunity to meet and learn from other clinicians and hear about their amazing work. Their tireless and creative advocacy is inspiring.”
Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers will be offered next in Spring semester of 2016.