The metapragmatics of legal advice communication in the field of immigration law
Metapragmatic comments are crucial in lawyers’ attempts at managing legal advice communication with asylum
seekers. Drawing on linguistic-ethnographic fieldwork in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, this paper aims to demonstrate
how/when/why textual features which tell interactants how to interpret the ongoing speech are used in the context of lawyer-client
communication in the field of immigration law. The data analysis reveals how lawyers frame the discursive conditions (i.e.
linguistic diversity, the institutional need for efficiency and the presence of emotional lifeworld concerns) of the local
interaction in the lawyer’s office. This is necessary as clients are not always acquainted with the discursive routines of the
legal consultation, nor aware of its position within the wider chain of discursive asylum events. As many aspects of the legal
advice context resemble the interactional conditions of the government-asylum seeker communication, it proves key yet challenging
for lawyers to metapragmatically signal their advocating role in a way that enables a relationship of rapport with their
Legal advice communication in the context of immigration law is a discursively complex endeavour. When asylum seekers arrive
in Belgium and apply for international protection, they are appointed a pro bono lawyer to support them throughout the whole
procedure. Most meetings between lawyers and asylum seekers are of a multilingual and intercultural nature, defined by the disclosure
of sensitive topics and constrained by workplace limits of time and resources. Metapragmatic framing is highly important in such legal
consultations, as lawyers try to manage the local lawyer-client communication, while also providing the asylum seeker with discursive
advice on how to manage their linguistic resources when communicating with the asylum authorities. As many aspects of the legal
advice context resemble the interactional conditions of the government-asylum seeker communication, it is key yet challenging for
lawyers to metapragmatically frame their advocating role in a way that enables a relationship of rapport with their client.
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