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Sign Skills Help Criminal Defense Lawyer Win Business, Explain and Comply with Deaf Culture


Having become fluent as a youngster in American Sign Language has helped a young criminal defense attorney with normal hearing acquire clients.

Although she has been licensed to practice only a little over a year, Amber Farrelly Elliott, 34, is routinely appointed to represent all deaf clients in class A and B misdemeanor cases in Travis County, Texas, who can’t afford to pay a private attorney, the American-Statesman reports.

She isn’t yet being assigned to handle felony cases for such clients because of her limited experience as a lawyer.

Seasoned not only in sign language but in the culture of those who communicate in this manner, Elliott brings valuable skills to these representations. She has been able to persuade officials to dismiss a number of cases, for example, by explaining that shoulder-tapping behavior perceived by some as an assault is simply how the deaf and hard-of-hearing seek to gain someone’s attention, the newspaper says.

She is also careful, especially because those in the local Austin area who are deaf or hard of hearing tend to know each other, to protect clients’ privacy. Unless they acknowledge her first, she doesn’t greet clients if they encounter each other in public, the article says. And, because sign language can readily be understood at a distance by others who sign, she makes sure to converse with clients about their cases in a private setting where they can’t be seen.

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