Ashley Atwell-Soler’s language skills have put her in high demand
Published in 2021 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine on November 15, 2021
Ashley Atwell-Soler arrived in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2001. With no furniture in her apartment, she was gearing up for a sure-to-be stressful trip to Ikea on the morning of Tuesday, September 11. Then she heard the sonic boom.
“That morning, I remember being excited,” she recalls. “Then I heard the noise and went to the lobby of my building. We were all standing around this 10- or 13-inch TV trying to figure out what was going on. … For a few days, I thought, ‘What am I doing here? I signed this lease and don’t have a job.’ Then my dad called to say, ‘This is not the same girl who went to Guatemala at 15 and moved to Miami without knowing anyone. You have to dig deep, fight and make this work.’”
So the Kansas City native put on a suit and “pounded the pavement.” Nine days after 9/11, she got a job as a staff assistant to Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes.
“It was a really crazy time in D.C.,” she says. “But I was thrilled to work for a Spanish-speaking and Latino member of Congress—for somebody whose district had a large Latino population where I could use my Spanish-language skills to help the community more.”
Eventually, Atwell-Soler became Reyes’ press secretary. She fielded media inquiries for both English- and Spanish-speaking outlets—and not only for Texas’ 16th district, but also the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, since the congressman was its chairperson.
“The office really functioned like a family,” she says. “I got to travel quite a bit to El Paso and learn a lot about different issues on the U.S.-Mexican border, and how being a border city impacts commerce, the environment—all sorts of issues.”
Atwell-Soler credits her interest in Latin America to an 11-day church trip to Guatemala when she was 15. Upon returning, she began saving her money, working part time on nights and weekends. By the summer before her senior year, she had earned enough to study abroad in Argentina for eight weeks.
“Because I was so young when I started learning Spanish, when I got back from Argentina, I was pretty close to fluent,” she says. During her senior year, the same program invited 30 Spanish-speaking students from Spain or Latin America to Kansas City. Becoming close friends with many of them, Atwell-Soler decided to head to Miami for a degree in Latin American studies and political science.
After her stint on Capitol Hill, she returned to Miami in 2003 for a master’s in history with a focus on Latin America. “My dad is a retired judge, and had been in private practice before that. … I always thought it was something I could potentially pursue, but I didn’t really have my sights set on law,” Atwell-Soler says. “I really thought I was going to be a professor.”
The summer before her program started, however, she was hired by a Kansas City-based court interpreter. “I ended up interpreting at a few court proceedings—everything from criminal matters to a wrongful-death hearing. I also did a fair amount of interpreting at jail visits, meeting with lawyers’ clients,” Atwell-Soler says. “It made me realize how rewarding it could be to be a bilingual attorney.”
Though she completed her master’s program in 2005, Atwell-Soler applied to law school rather than continuing on the Ph.D. track. Upon receiving her J.D., she clerked for Western District of Missouri Judge Dean Whipple before carving out her employment niche at Lathrop & Gage and then Holman Schiavone.
Atwell-Soler says there is high demand for Spanish-speaking employment lawyers. Approximately half her clients are Spanish speaking, and she’s worked with people on every end of the employment spectrum—from hourly workers to high-level leadership positions.
“Spanish speakers are still a very underserved community,” she says. “It feels great to be able to help people get on equal footing with access to the U.S. justice system, and to be able to understand legal concepts and have those explanations in their own language. My clients are so grateful. They’re just trying to achieve their American dreams, and for them to have access to an attorney that can fully engage with them in Spanish—that makes it rewarding.”