Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lavigne & VanRybroek on Language, Communication and Access to Justice

This recently posted article by Michele Lavigne and Gregory VanRybroek, entitled 'He Got in My Face so I Shot Him': How Defendants' Language Impairments Impair Attorney-Client Relationships, while not directly tax-related, presents a very interesting take on what it means to have meaningful access to justice, which is a major aspect of thinking about what it means to say we are governed by the rule of law. I am still more optimistic than PJ about this concept, but I have grave fears for the future of law in the face of the many severe procedural impairments we have been seeing of late. This paper outlines in a deep and rich way some of the fundamental components necessary to a just legal system, but it also just a very well written and fascinating account of the role of language and communication in expressing and implementing law. Abstract:
Language impairments -- deficits in language and the ability to use it -- occur at starkly elevated rates among adolescents and adults charged with and convicted of crimes. These impairments have serious ramifications for the quality of justice. In this article, we focus specifically on the effects of a client's language impairment on the attorney-client relationship, the constitutional realm that suffers most when a client lacks essential communication skills. The effects of language impairment can be seen in a client's ability to work with a lawyer in the first place, tell a story, comprehend legal information, and make a rational and informed decision. This article shows how these effects play themselves out within the attorney-client relationship, and the impact on the lawyer's ability to meet her constitutional and ethical obligations. We also propose concrete steps for improving the quality of communication within the attorney-client relationship. While attorneys will obviously shoulder much of the responsibility, judges and prosecutors are not exempt. A client's poor communication skills are not simply be "the lawyer's problem," but a matter of great concern for all stakeholders in the justice system.

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