Attorney Vito DeLuca began noticing an increase in Spanish-speaking clients over the past few years.
Conversing with clients was difficult – some would bring a family member or friend to translate – or DeLuca would have to use a third-party interpreter, turning the attorney-client relationship down a road DeLuca did not want to go.
Luzerne County employs one Spanish-speaking interpreter and uses contracting services of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to hire interpreters for court purposes. DeLuca took it upon himself to learn the language – including months of Spanish lessons and most recently, two weeks at a school in Puebla, Mexico.
DeLuca, 45, who has a private law firm in Kingston, learned Spanish in high school and had refreshed his memory of the years.
“Over the past seven or so months, I really made a serious effort to try to become conversationally fluent,” DeLuca said in an interview from Mexico. “I took courses online, read books and started taking Spanish lessons via Skype from a native speaker. My teacher is a native of Spain who now lives in Mexico.”
Research pays off
The video-conferencing lessons take four to six hours a week for the past two months, but DeLuca, of Mountain Top, wanted to take it to the next level.
“I did a lot of research online. The (Spanish Institute of Puebla) has an excellent reputation and a very effective curriculum,” DeLuca said. “ I signed up for two weeks of one-on-one instruction.”
Two weeks ago, DeLuca left for Mexico, where he has since had grammar classes and conversation classes.
An instructor for the conversation classes would take DeLuca to various places in Puebla, essentially “forcing students to communicate exclusively in Spanish.”
“No doubt it was extremely uncomfortable at first, but by the second week, I was much less self-conscious,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca, who practices different aspects of the law, including municipal and criminal, said he wouldn’t call himself fluent… at least not yet.
“I do plan to continue with my studies when I return, including the Skype lessons,” DeLuca said. “I do plan to return (to the Spanish Institute of Puebla) again early next year.”
DeLuca said his new skill will help him most in criminal defense because of the many aspects that need to be discussed with clients and because communicating through an interpreter is difficult.
“I found it so difficult to provide effective legal representation to someone who does not speak the same language,” DeLuca said. “I believe that although many criminal defendants understand the words that a translator translates in court, differences in culture may keep them from truly understanding.”
DeLuca said it is his primary responsibility to explain consequences before a person appears in court, but that can be difficult if the attorney does not know the language and the cultural distinction of the words.
“The client may not have the requisite understanding of the consequences of their actions in court,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca said his trip to Puebla gave him an experience and Spanish-speaking foundation that he would not have had otherwise.
“I believe it is critical to have an understanding of the culture in order to be able to communicate effectively with a person who was born and raised as a native speaker from another country,” DeLuca said.
The extra experience will allow DeLuca to increase his number of clients and the level of service he can provide to his Spanish-speaking clients.
“Presently, I have no one else in my office who speaks Spanish,” DeLuca said, noting he does not personally know of any other local attorneys who have learned the language.
“It requires a huge time commitment,” DeLuca said. “I do know that many of the larger firms employ native Spanish speakers either as attorneys or support staff.”