Part 2: Volunteer Katie Conyers

Katie Conyers

Katie Conyers is a senior majoring in Spanish at Furman University, so how did she end up at the Greenville office of South Carolina Legal Services?

Katie is currently enrolled in a Political Science course, 506 Fieldwork in State and Local Public Affairs, which is an internship in local or state governmental agencies or nongovernmental agencies, taught by Teresa Cosby, a former SCLS employee. Ms. Cosby needed a Spanish speaker for an internship position this semester and approached Katie about filling it. Katie was interested in the position and met with Jada Charley, the SCLS Language Access Coordinator. Turns out that Katie and Jada have quite a bit in common and Katie was up for the challenge.

So in January 2010, Katie began her internship at the Greenville SCLS office.

A typical day in the office for Katie includes:

  • Writing letters in Spanish;
  • Translating brochures from English into Spanish;
  • Writing articles for Spanish language news; and
  • Assisting with intakes as needed.

She notes “a lot of writing!”

When she came to work, she didn’t bring a lot of preconceived notions. She knew only that she wanted to learn. She has learned that the cases coming into SCLS cover different legal needs than high profile legal cases that make it into the news. Additionally, working with clients of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) has shown her how difficult it is for them to understand the problems facing them and even more difficult for them to understand the “fixes.”

She offered that she feels honored to be part of such a warm and welcoming team; and has never felt out of place at SCLS.

I had one more question for Katie:

Have you ever considered going to law school?

Originally I had considered going into academia, but this experience has stirred up thoughts about my future. I don’t know about pursuing law school, but working here (at Greenville SCLS) has been a positive experience.

-RFW

Understand?

What?
What?

One word can make a huge difference. It’s what comes before and what follows that’s equally important, especially in court.

There’s a good article in the New York Times about the study, Language Access in the Courts, by the Brennan Center for Justice about the necessity of understanding the proceedings not only in criminal cases but in civil cases too.

Interpreters in the courts is an issue that was identified by the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission via the 2008 public hearings – both for South Carolinians who are deaf and those with limited English proficiency (LEP). Since that time, we have been working on ways to improve interpretation in the courts.

If you’re curious about law/summaries for interpretation in South Carolina courts or other states, the study is worth a read. Or if you want a quick peek, check out the NY Times article.

-RFW

Language + Web Tools = Access

The folks at techno.la have done it again. They have pointed readers to information on the web for LEP people or people with Limited English Proficiency. The specific article is well worth reading if you work with LEP. Check it out here.

If you want to learn more about equal justice ideas and initiatives, read the whole magazine starting here.

-RFW

SC ATJ New Year’s Wishes or Resolutions?

COUNTDOWN TO 2009

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As the New Year’s wishes and resolutions are starting to pour in, I’ve had a few moments to ponder Access to Justice resolutions for 2009. Before I lose count of the many goals for 2009, I thought I’d share a few.

12. South Carolina Access to Justice will develop a working relationship with legal paraprofessionals throughout the state.

11. Technology advances such as instant messaging, podcasts, YouTube videos, and email allow greater communication to and for people in need of low-cost legal services, especially when transportation imposes a barrier.

10. The Commission and partner organizations reach solutions to the need for interpreters for individuals who are Deaf and with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

9.  South Carolina law students, both USC School of Law and Charleston School of Law students, become engaged in access to justice and collaborate with the Commission for creative solutions.

8. South Carolina attorneys recognize the opportunity that unbundled or limited scope legal services can provide to South Carolinians with low income or of modest means, especially during this financial climate while sustaining the attorney’s practice at the same time.

7. SC Access to Justice establishes a library workgroup to assist self-represented litigants (SRLs) with access to approved, free legal forms (http://www.sccourts.org/forms/indexSelfHelp.cfm) and to establish a long-lasting partnership with libraries.

6. All South Carolinians who are unable to afford an attorney can reach one access point for all South Carolina legal service organizations.

5. Every County Courthouse will house or have access to a nearby self-help center for self-represented litigants.

4. Every county self-help center will be staffed for a minimum of 5 hours per week by pro bono attorneys.

3. Every South Carolina licensed attorney completes at least 50 hours of pro bono service as per ABA Model Rule 6.1 VOLUNTARY PRO BONO SERVICE.

2. The Second Pilot Lawyer Mentor Program incorporates the aspirational Pro Bono expectation and that it becomes a “shall” instead of a “should.”

1. That ALL South Carolinians have equal access to the law and its remedies without regard to their economic status.

Happy New Year!

-RFW

Access to Justice is WORLDWIDE, even in South Africa

I don’t know what drew me so strongly to this article about South Africa promoting use of indigenous languages in its court system. After all, I have other articles on my Google Alerts. Maybe it was the fact that I can vividly recall the anti-apartheid movement. Maybe it’s because that around my “coming of age” (yes I’m “that” old), apartheid was starting to become an international concern. Then in 1987, I saw a movie with a youngish Denzel Washington, “Cry Freedom,” and it opened my eyes to the POWER that law holds.

It would still be some years before I realized that law held a calling for me personally.

Maybe I was drawn to the stark realization that what I’ve been working on here in the United States, in South Carolina, is also happening in a country plagued by discrimination. True, there are contrasts and differences between the work, but this article, http://www.buanews.gov.za/news/08/08103110151003, indicates that South Africa is working on Limited Language Proficiency or what we know as Limited English Proficiency or LEP to increase ACCESS TO JUSTICE.

This will enable people who can not speak or understand English well to gain equal access to justice, by making it more accessible and understandable to ordinary citizens with particular focus on the poor and vulnerable.

Why this resonates so strongly I can’t really say. All I know is that it does resonate. It resonates strongly.

Maybe it is because of the hope it offers. South Africa is working to make the civil legal system more accessible to ordinary citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable.

If access to justice can succeed in South Africa, it can succeed here. In South Carolina.

Wow.

-RFW

Language Agreement increases Access to Justice in Maine

Individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) have reduced the language barrier in Maine. Today the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced an agreement with the Maine judiciary to ensure that LEP individuals seeking services throughout the State’s court system will have access to timely and competent language assistance.

The Maine judicial branch receives federal funding which requires compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the nondiscrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. These two acts together prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or religion by recipients of federal assistance.

For more information visit http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2008/September/08-crt-867.html.

-RFW

Plain Language: Moving Away from Legalese

The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission was first introduced to the concept of Plain Language at the regional public hearings last spring.  Last week, Court Solutions’ attendees learned more about the Plain Language movement and heard about initiatives around the country.

Plain Language uses words and images that most people can understand. It enables people with low literacy abilities, people with limited English proficiency and/or people with cognitive disabilities to more easily understand the concepts. People with visual impairments benefit from plain language because it is easier for their automated “screen readers.”

There are many online resources about how to draft plain language documents. Here are just a few:

Stay tuned for more information about Plain Language updates from Stephanie A. Nye.

-RFW