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Jim Guleke, a shareholder in Austin’s Sneed, Vine & Perry, can conduct basic interviews with potential clients who speak only Spanish after taking a Spanish course with a legal twist. Last spring, the Austin Young Lawyers Association offered a six-week Spanish conversation course tailored for lawyers. The course, made possible through a partnership with Austin Community College, enabled the 15 lawyers who participated to become conversant enough in the language that they can greet Spanish-speaking clients and determine the legal matters they need handled. The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division presented an Award of Achievement to the AYLA during the recent ABA annual meeting in New York. The Austin affiliate also received the Most Outstanding Service Project to the Bar Award for its Spanish for Lawyers program. Patricia Hayes, president-elect of the AYLA and co-chairwoman of the association’s Career Issues Committee, says she “stole” the idea for the Spanish class from the Dallas Bar Association, which had a similar project. The concept was modified for Austin, she says. Hayes, director of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education, says lawyers need to know a second language, especially in Texas where the Hispanic population is growing rapidly. “It’s a valuable skill that I think is going to become more important as time progresses,” she says. “A lot of Anglos want to expand their practice to work with Spanish-speaking clients,” says AYLA administrator Lisa Sledge. “It’s a huge market now that offers them more opportunity.” But despite the growing number of Spanish-speaking people in Texas, many lawyers can’t speak the language. Hayes says if someone walks in off the street and Spanish is his only language, a lawyer often can’t converse with the individual enough to find out what legal matter he has come to discuss. A lawyer should be able to at least get through the intake procedure with the client, she says. Prior to taking the course last spring, Guleke says his exposure to Spanish was limited to taking a six-week class in the eighth grade. Through the AYLA-sponsored course, he has learned sentences and phrases that help him “at least get by” in an initial interview with a Spanish-speaking person, Guleke says. It helps, Guleke says, “just being able to greet someone and be able to ask him the basics — like what is your name, where do you live, and what is your problem?” Javier Olguin, manager of ACC’s downtown center, says the course uses the “Open Door to Spanish” curriculum, which emphasizes speaking the language rather than learning the technicalities of how to write it. Olguin says Sally Gaytan-Baker, a former paralegal who serves as an adjunct professor at the community college, taught the course and customized it to attorneys. “Sally took the existing curriculum, laid down a solid foundation and fused it with a lot of terms that lawyers use,” he says. The No. 1 priority, Olguin says, is for a lawyer to determine quickly what the individual’s problem is and whether he can handle it. Lawyers also need to learn basic cultural etiquette so there is positive communication from the beginning between them and potential clients who speak Spanish, he says. Olguin says Gaytan-Baker uses a technique known as “modeling” to teach the class. With this technique, the instructor models the way words and phrases should sound and also uses body language to convey the meaning. “Traditionally, modeling means more than verbalizing,” Olguin says. “You use the entire body to get the meaning across.” The course that AYLA offered last spring focused on the basics of Spanish. Olguin says plans are in the works to offer a basic course and a more advanced course. The two courses will provide a total of 42 hours of instruction. Gaytan-Baker is expected to teach the courses, which Olguin says are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 13 through March 22 at ACC’s downtown center. Olguin says the tentative plan is to offer the course on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. According to Olguin, the college charges the AYLA $80 an hour for the course. The cost to take a six-week course is about $150 per lawyer. Hayes says AYLA had an overflow list the first time that the course was offered and is expecting a good turnout when the two courses are offered next spring. Says Hayes, “We hope to develop this as an ongoing project.”

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