Claudia Johnson Blogs on Cost Saving LEP Ideas

In the latest MIE Journal, Jesus Salas, Monica Buckley, and Facundo Bouzat from ABLE, Ohio, publish an excellent article sharing how ABLE is developing the capacity to serve LEP clients and the methods and tools it uses to do so. For those of you not in the legal hotlines community, ABLE is part of Legal Aid of Western Ohio, one of the oldest, largest and and most respected large legal hotlines and programs in the country. In Ohio, as many other states, they are seeing a growth in LEP residents that is dramatic.

As they write in the article, the provision of legal services to LEP communities has not been rapidly embraced by legal non profits or courts in a way that is proportional to the changes they are seeing in their service communities. Often perceived as a cost, rather than as a quality best practice, language access accommodations are perceived as an add on, not a necessity to provide quality legal servicer or quality and accurate court decision. (Link to table of contents, not this article)

They write:

Non-profits many times lack the incentives prevalent in the private sector to communicate with LEP populations. Private firms adjust very quickly—advertising and providing services in Spanish, for example, allowing private firms to obtain more LEP clients. Legal services programs face the challenge of finding the right incentives to provide the same access that seem apparent in several areas of the private sector. New technologies and negotiating on economies of scale may provide these incentives.

In the article they share all the different steps they are taken and plan to take in the near future to address the needs of the LEP residents served by the hotline. One of the most promising ones is centralization of interpreter services of all the legal services programs in their state. They argue that centralizing interpreter services for legal services creates economies of scale for all the programs.  They provide details on the cost savings they have achieved so far. For a cost of about $52,000 a year, they are providing qualified interpreters using various cost saving technologies, including video conference, professional level translation software, and competent staff to oversee the project.

Another legal aid model to look at, in terms of centralizing language services in legal non profits, is the Language Access Project at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. LAP, as it is known ,started in 1999 and the centralized the interpreting and translation services provided to LEP clients of CLS—a statewide non LSC funded program.

LAP has had great impact in Philadelphia because as Salas writes, often legal aid is advocating for LEP access outside of legal aid, but part of being a legal non profit is providing language access to all clients or applicants for services.  LAP has in effect improved the landscape of LEP access to courts in its advocacy, in 2006, seven years after inception, ACT 172 was enacted, clarifying how courts need to address language issues in the state.

Centralizing translation and interpreting services in the legal aid world, is another cost saving idea that impacts directly on access and costs of providing legal services in 2012 and beyond. Legal aid groups could work with their local funders to create centralized translation project in the legal aid domain. There are design, system tools, and administration overhead that have to be covered to design the right system at the right scale. Initial seed money may be needed for the ramp up time and to explore the best technology to leverage resources. The ABLE model may be the place to start.  Courts could also work jointly with legal aid to benefit from what legal aid groups may be doing, and help with defray their costs of using some of these systems (in this funding environment it is not rational to expect a free ride) and  marginal costs need to be covered to not bankrupt the system and allow it to scale to capacity.

If courts can not explore collaboration with legal aid in these type of projects then they could consider some minimal investments to experiment with such a shared platform. In some state this is already happening in the use of remote video interrpreters, like in Florida.

Although court budgets are in the decline, their budgets are often much larger, sometimes orders of magnitude much larger than their local legal aid. It is likely that courts can garner more resources than can the legal aid community. Why not test this? Maybe other court funders could be interested in funding a pilot and doing a strong cost benefit analysis (which is always expensive).

The ABA House of Delegates will be voting on the SCLAID LEP recommendation for courts in early 2012.

Anyone out there taking the ABLE or CLS model and collaborating with a court or self help center to reduce the cost and improve the quality of legal services by providing quality language accommodations?  Please share.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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