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English Speakers Get Better Results at Trial

Lady Justice may be blind, but she's not deaf, conclude the authors of a recent study sponsored by Texas Tech University showing that English-speaking Hispanic plaintiffs fare better at trial than their non-English-speaking counterparts.  As described in this press release, the study, conducted by Dallas attorney Angel Reyes along with Drs. Bradley T. Ewing and James C. Wetherbe, two Texas Tech professors, reviewed the outcome of more than 200 personal injury verdicts between 1996 and 2007.  Using the differential between the last settlement offer and the eventual verdict as a metric, the study found that Hispanic plaintiffs who relied on an interpreter at trial were 15 percent less likely than an English speaker to obtain a jury verdict that exceeded the last settlement offer.

Though the study suggests that jurors, or perhaps even judicial bias, accounts for the lesser success of non-English-speaking Hispanic plaintiffs at trial, in my view, other factors may explain the disparity.  Most significantly, non-English-speaking Hispanic plaintiffs may be represented by non-English-speaking lawyers trained in another country or whose own English-speaking skills are not as strong, which can impair the lawyer's ability to communicate effectively with the jury.  And even where non-English-speaking Hispanic plaintiffs are represented by an English-speaking lawyer, if that lawyer can't speak any Spanish, then he can't communicate directly with the client and share the kind of advice on those seeming trivialities -- like how to answer a question or what tone of voice to use in the courtroom or what to do to keep from forgetting what to say -- that put clients at ease and make them more effective witnesses in court. 

Have you been involved in cases with non-English-speaking plaintiffs, and if so, what's your view?  Are juries biased against non-English-speaking Hispanics?  Or does this segment of the population wind up with less-than-effective representation because of the language gap?  Post your thoughts below.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 9, 2008 at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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