Villanova Law School Interpreter and Translator Program

Anthony Grasso, Staff Writer

To most Villanova students, the undergraduate colleges and the Charles Widger School of Law are two different worlds with little interaction, despite being just across the train tracks. However, for some undergraduates, this is not the case. And these undergraduates aren’t pre-law students; they’re Spanish students.

One of the special opportunities offered by the Spanish Language and Literature department at Villanova is the community internship program. In partnership with the Villanova Law School clinical program, the Spanish Department gives high-level undergraduate students the chance to serve as interpretation and translation interns in a legal setting. Students are tasked with providing written translations from English to Spanish, and vice-versa, of correspondences between law students and their Spanish-speaking clients, as well as legal documents, such as affidavits and sworn-witness testimonies. In addition, students have the opportunity to serve as interpreters of live phone and video conversations between student-lawyers and clients. This program provides a unique opportunity for students to greatly enhance their Spanish skills and gain exposure to various legal processes, while also making crucial contributions to the effort to defend the rights of traditionally underserved populations. 

The Charles Widger School of Law has six different clinics that offer law students hands-on experience in various branches of law: the Federal Tax Clinic, the Health Law Clinic, the Civil Justice Clinic, the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee, and Emigrant Services (CARES), the Clinic for Law and Entrepreneurship and the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic (FLAC). Most of the work of interns relates to the Federal Tax Clinic, the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee, and Emigrant Services and the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic. Under normal circumstances, lawyers participating in these clinics and their clients would often hold in-person meetings, during which undergraduate interpreters would serve at the law school. However, due to the current circumstances, nearly all interpretation services are conducted via phone or Zoom.  

As a result of these unprecedented circumstances, the program has also partnered with the Advocates for Human Rights (AHR), a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that helps with refugee resettlement and cases related to immigration law. The AHR also staffs a National Asylum Helpline, a confidential phone line that individuals can call for assistance in finding pro bono legal counsel for guidance in preparing for court hearings. In addition to serving the Villanova Law School, interns now also help in staffing this hotline. 

This internship program fits wonderfully into the schedules of students pursuing either a major or minor in Spanish Language and Literature. Accompanying the internship is a class that meets for two hours for one evening each week. The class had been taught by Raúl Diego Rivera Hernández for some time; however, this semester the course is being led by Tomás Hidalgo Nava due to Rivera Hernández’s appointment to the directorship of the Latin American Studies program. The class encompasses both practice of interpretation and translation techniques as well as learning about the asylum process and the environments from which their clients come. At the end of the course, students give a presentation on a related topic of their choosing and write a final research paper. After completing the course requirements, as well as 130 hours of service over the course of the semester (approximately 65 hours with both the Villanova Law School and Advocates for Human Rights), students will earn three credits, which can be used as free elective credits or counted towards a Spanish or Latin American Studies major or minor. 

The internship is co-led by Tomás Hidalgo Nava from the Spanish department and Caitlin Barry from the law school. Gabriela Escobar Battle, the paralegal for the CARES Clinic, plays a pivotal role as well in organizing intern schedules and serving as a contact point for both interns and law students whenever assistance is needed. Students that have demonstrated excellence and commitment throughout the course of the internship have the chance to apply to be mentors for future interns. In addition to providing translation and interpretation services wherever necessary, mentors help the interns become acquainted with their positions and serve as guides throughout the course of the semester. 

As a current mentor and former intern, I can say with conviction that my involvement with this program continues to leave a significant impact on my college experience here at Villanova. Not only has it helped me to strengthen and feel more comfortable with my Spanish skills and taught me the valuable skills of translation and interpretation, but it has introduced  me to the complexity of the legal world, most notably in the realm of immigration law, which is a humbling experience for anyone.