The legal profession is decidedly competitive—it starts in the first year of law school and never lets up.
Intelligence, hard work, cultivating useful relationships, and being a billing rock star all go a long way to keep you on top. Most lawyers know they need to do all these things to get ahead, but only some lawyers have other useful skills that can give them an edge. Being bilingual—or trilingual or better—can give a lawyer an immeasurable advantage and lead to exciting career opportunities closed to those who only speak English.
You don’t have to work in international law to know that the world is becoming smaller. Even the smallest companies do business overseas, and there are plenty of American communities that need legal assistance in languages other than English. That’s why fluency in a foreign language is such a great skill to have no matter what kind of law you practice.
On top of the fact of economic globalization, our country’s demographics are changing. Spanish-language skills are useful in almost every area of the law. Speaking your clients’ native language can help foster cultural understanding and community connections, engender trust, and minimize the occurrence of misunderstandings.
Multilingual Attorneys Are More Marketable
There is increasing demand for lawyers who can speak foreign languages, giving multilingual candidates a clear advantage over some of their peers. Some firms have even been known to ease their hiring criteria for candidates with language skills. Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese are particularly sought after. It is not unusual for bilingual lawyers to report being given opportunities much earlier that they would have had they not been able to speak the client’s language—and the benefits multiply the more languages a lawyer speaks.
A lawyer who can speak languages other than English can also more easily expand into other practice areas—litigation, immigration, mergers and acquisitions, technology—all those areas continue to see rising demand for foreign languages.
Not Just Language, But Culture Too
Working in another language takes a stronger and different type of effort than simply learning enough to get by on the occasional overseas vacation. If you have a decent basis in a language from studying it in school, you’re going to need to add to that knowledge quite a bit, as well as learn specialized legal language. Taking a formal class or hiring a tutor can be quite helpful—your local bar association may offer foreign language courses for lawyers.
Being proficient in a foreign language is not just about being able to translate words from one language into another. To be truly bilingual and communicate as effectively and authentically as possible, studying and immersing oneself in the relevant cultures is a must. This will increase the lawyer’s cultural sensitivity, further deepen client trust, and help raise the lawyer’s skill level by allowing her to learn the quirks of various types of daily, spoken interactions.
Are you interested in putting your language skills to use? Within the next two weeks, do some research to determine how and where you can use your skills. Schedule a class or a language immersion program to make sure your proficiency level is appropriately high and that you can truly communicate legal concepts in your second language before taking steps to start working bilingually.