A multilingual specialist private family lawyer has joined Smith Partnership, strengthening their work with the Leicestershire community and breaking down barriers to legal support.
Shameela Chopdat joined the East Midlands firm’s Leicester office in February from Worcestershire-based Bank solicitors.
Shameela, who was born and raised in Leicester, said she was looking forward to working closely with the community in the city.
“I really enjoy family law because I am a people person and you get to build a really good rapport with your clients and you can see how much you are helping them.”
Shameela speaks English and Gujarati, as well as some Urdu. She believes this encourages people to access legal support.
She said: “When you’re building those relationships with clients, it helps if you speak their language. I have seen before when clients come in and they try to speak in English but are struggling and I say, ‘it’s okay, I can speak Gujurati.’
“They are so relieved because they can get across what they need to more easily.
“I also think that some people aren’t aware that interpreters are available and they may not come forward for legal support at all. When you think that could be someone suffering domestic abuse or in a relationship they can’t escape, it is important they know we can help and we can speak to them in their language without the need for a third party.”
Shameela is the seventh multilingual lawyer employed by Smith Partnership across its offices in Derby, Leicester, Stoke, Swadlincote, Burton and Ashby. They speak six languages; Lithuanian, Russian, Hindi, Gujurati, Punjabi and Urdu.
A study last year into the language barriers to legal advice by The Bell Foundation found that some people were put off seeking legal help because they could not speak English.
The researchers concluded: “Overall, speakers of English as a second or additional language (ESL) are often disadvantaged, as they may be denied fair justice outcomes and face barriers and constraints to access services and support.”
Della Phillips, partner and branch manager at Smith Partnership’s Leicester office, said she wanted to ensure ESL speakers in the East Midlands knew that support was available.
“Interpreters are available but we know they can be costly and it can be more difficult to talk through a third party when you are discussing complex legal matters,” said Della.
“We are proud to have staff who speak such a range of languages and we want people to know this so they aren’t deterred from seeking legal support.”