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Why We Code-Switch: An Observational Case Study of a Legal Services Specialist

Presentation author(s)

Erin Gallagher ’21, Bartlett, Illinois

Major: Sociology


There are some careers where the ability or subsequent inability to codeswitch could cost you your job. How could something so simple as saying the wrong thing in front of the wrong person affect one’s ability to do their job effectively? As an intern shadowing a Client Legal Advocate at the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office, I realized the possibility to be entirely true. I argue that code-switching is the most important skill for a client legal advocate to have. Codeswitching is the primary way by which CLAs gain candid stories and necessary information from their clients, especially those who distrust the justice system in this country.

Language and communication come in a variety of forms, sounds, and patterns. Codeswitching is the ability to recognize these patterns and shifts and fit the scenario at hand. Effective communication and the ability to talk to people in ways that build rapport are integral in both the personal and professional spheres. There isn’t just one way to talk to people. People use codeswitching everyday. Whether it’s between meetings with colleagues at work and meeting friends at the bar, or between the way you speak with your parents as opposed to the way you speak with your professors- there’s a different code that benefits one the most, according to the scene and the actors at play.


Carol Wickersham

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