Success in Translation: Mediator Burke Johnson Enjoys Mediating in Spanish


In every mediation, the mediator has to point out certain weaknesses in a party’s case. The lawyers understand that this is the mediator’s job. However, unless the mediator has established a relationship of trust and respect with the individual plaintiff (who is typically the only person who has never gone through a mediation before), this action on the part of the mediator can be seen as “taking sides” with the other party. Thus, one of the most important tasks of the mediator is to establish a relationship of trust and respect with the plaintiff at the very outset of the mediation. At Miles, we strive to do this from the moment our clients enter our office.

Imagine being from a small town or a rural area, driving into Atlanta, coming into a high-rise building, and being surrounded by lawyers talking about your case. Growing up in rural Georgia myself, I understand how intimidating that can be.

However, add to that the fact that English is not your first language, and you are then faced with the daunting task of trying to understand what all of these people are saying about you and trying to explain your case in a language you barely understand.

Consider though how you would feel if your mediator greeted you in your native language, guided you to the kitchen for refreshments, told you where the bathroom was, and then started to discuss your case with you in your native tongue. What a relief that would be, and what an immediate bond of trust and respect would be formed.

The Hispanic population in Georgia has grown considerably over the years, and we routinely have clients coming into Miles who speak little or no English. I am not Hispanic myself, but I have been a student of Spanish language and Hispanic culture for nearly 40 years. In 2000, I traveled to Guatemala and spent an extended period of time taking an immersion course in Spanish. I have represented numerous Hispanic clients and have conducted many mediations with Spanish-speaking clients.

I would welcome the opportunity to mediate any case in which the clients are Spanish-speaking and would be made to feel more “at ease” with a mediator who speaks their language.

Read more about Burke’s immersion experience in Guatemala.