The legal profession is getting more lucrative and competitive. If you want to set yourself apart, boost your prospects and follow a legal career, knowledge of foreign languages is necessary.
If you are experienced in law and want to work in legal translation services, your foreign language skills will also come in handy.
The United States is a multiethnic country where English is the dominant language. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, which is the latest available data, there are 237 million English speakers in the U.S. followed by 41 million Spanish speakers. Bilingualism can set you in great stead for starting your legal career here.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest data states that at least 350 languages are spoken around the country. The top 10 most popular languages are Italian, Russian, Arabic, Korean, German, French, Vietnamese, Filipino (Tagalog), Chinese and Spanish.
Need for Foreign Languages
If you speak any of the top 10 languages in the United States, it will be easier for you to join the mainstream legal office and start your legal career. However, there is also a need for other languages outside of the top 10 to serve other ethnic groups.
If you have ties with Britain and you want to expand your legal career in that country, you would have a distinct advantage because the British are famous for lacking language skills.
It is advantageous to your legal career if you speak any of the languages spoken in Western Europe. But due to the shift in economic powers to other markets such as China, and with international law firms expanding, recruiters are often looking for lawyers who speak various languages.
Likewise, according to Brian Porro, who is the principal translator at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation, international and European institutions have a shortage of lawyers who are native English speakers.
The situation in the United States is almost the same, with Mandarin Chinese being on top of the most in-demand languages for a legal career. As the profession increasingly becomes global in its outlook, a legal career favors lawyers who can speak foreign languages.
According to the State Department, Mandarin is a critical language. Other languages that are important for aspiring lawyers and other job seekers are German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, French, Arabic, Hindi and Russian.
Benefits of Foreign Language Skills
In almost every profession today, speaking a foreign language provides several benefits, especially in a legal career. With companies and businesses going global, communication is no longer limited to English.
When thinking of advancing your legal career, being proficient in a foreign language increases your employability. You can be assigned a wider range of projects, and increase your salary.
Not only will more employment prospects await you and your legal career if you can speak a foreign language. There are opportunities to work and live abroad as well. Whether you practice or specialize in these areas, it would be a great opportunity to open new horizons and earn valuable experience to enhance your legal career.
- Personal injury
- Estate planning
- Intellectual property
- Medical malpractice
- Workers compensation
- Social security disability
- Civil litigation
- General practice
A previous survey commissioned by Robert Half Legal revealed that 42 percent of the respondents from the largest companies and law firms in the United States required professionals for a legal career with skills in foreign languages.
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The Symbiosis of the Legal Profession and Languages
Like other industries, the legal industry goes global as well. This is inevitable because where there are industries, corporations, products, services and workforce, legal matters are present. Thus legal firms practicing international law have to hire lawyers with excellent language skills.
Law students should have a global mindset, where language skills are a part. In the current job market scenario, you may even be placed at a disadvantage for your legal career if you do not speak a foreign language.
It is more advantageous for your legal career if you speak the language of any of the emerging economies, such as the Middle East, Asia and China. The demand is higher for legal practitioners who speak these languages versus the standard ones, like Spanish, German and French.
Demand for Spanish-Speaking Legal Staff
It is not surprising that Spanish speakers are in great demand for a legal career in the United States. In the most recent survey, there are 41 million speakers of Spanish in the U.S.
In the survey of Robert Half Legal, 88 percent of the respondents said that Spanish was the most in-demand language, due mainly to the strong growth of the Hispanic population especially in Texas, New York, Florida and California.
You can jumpstart your legal career in these states. Legal jobs are plenty in these areas, from legal administration, paralegal positions, legal secretaries, and legal support assistance to legal translation services among others.
Nonprofits, corporate legal departments and laws firms are just some of the companies that often require Spanish speaking lawyers and legal support staff.
Moreover, with the large communities of Spanish-speaking residents in these states, there is a great need for bilingual legal staff who are experienced in employment-based and family-based immigration law. You can find work in public and private sectors for your legal career, as well as in many local government offices.
Demand for Asian Languages in the Legal Market
In large cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the second most desirable language for a legal career is Mandarin Chinese, among the Asian languages.
This is due not only because of the increasing number of Chinese communities in these areas but also because China is an influential global economy that has plenty of business concerns in the U.S. Likewise, attorneys who are fluent in Korean and Japanese are also in demand, for the same reasons.
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Corporate Legal Counsels
Several industries that deal with wide consumer appeal and applications, such as high technology and automotive industries favor hiring bilingual corporate counsel for patents and litigation.
With most cell phone and software companies based in Asia or doing business in the United States and elsewhere, they need bilingual corporate lawyers to handle various patent and copyright infringements.
Many of these legal jobs are project based, but can be long-term as well, enhancing your legal career because of the need exhaustive and lengthy investigation.
Being bilingual gives you the advantage of finding permanent positions as paralegals and in-house counsel in legal departments of different corporations. Some may be temporary, but the ongoing demand for bilingual legal professionals makes for a steady flow of work.
As mentioned, Spanish and Chinese speaking lawyers are in great demand in the United States. When American English has become the de facto language in many fields, including business, many schools in America eliminated foreign language study.
But to earn the trust and confidence of clients in different professions, such as law, cultural understanding and language skills are critical. Being bilingual in your legal career will definitely give you the edge.
At San Diego’s California Western School of Law, there is a Spanish for Lawyers program, coordinated by the assistant dean for mission development, James Cooper. Mr. Cooper also manages the Proyecto ACCESO (Creative Lawyers Collaborating to Find Optimal Solutions). It is a Latin American center that trains government, community leaders, law students, judges and lawyers in problem solving, oral advocacy and other skills for resolving conflicts.
On the other hand, Spanish for Lawyers provides training in the language, including the meaning of words and their usage in different countries, together with the subtleties of the Spanish language.
The Competitive Edge for Your Legal Career
It is still uncertain how wide an impact immigration and globalization will have on legal jobs, but markets will indeed dictate even if there are policy changes to contend with. But your legal career, if you are bilingual, will always be in demand as more companies and law firms concentrate on serving globalized and multicultural markets.
It is important for a legal professional to understand how language is used in foreign cultures. It is not only about translating the words but understanding legal culture. You have to understand that in some cultures, people distrust law enforcement officials due to the widespread corruption in the system.
Your bilingualism makes you more marketable because many law firms now realize that they can attract clients who are non-English speakers by incorporating their bilingual attorneys in their marketing strategies.
It is important for clients who do not speak English to have a legal practitioner who speaks their language. They are more comfortable talking with someone who is fluent in their language. If they are asked to fill out forms, for example, they can use their mother tongue, because they know their attorney could translate what they say.
Even if you are fluent in a foreign language, it will be better for your legal career if you have cultural immersion. Spend some time, six months at least, in the country where the foreign language you speak is the national language or at least the dominant language.
You will get a chance to hone you language skills and get more practical and hands-on training about how the language is used in the daily lives of native speakers.
Being bilingual makes you more sensitive to different cultures. It also makes you flexible. It would be a great boost to your legal career if you were able to speak, write in read in a foreign language, as these qualities would make you more desirable to recruiters and prospective employers.
If you want to know more about language services in the legal industry, check out our free guide in the matter. There a cost in translation and interpreting beyond the price per hour or word; that is the cost of winning or not a case.