In my practice as an immigration lawyer, I suspect that I have more opportunities to speak to clients in languages other than English than do lawyers in other fields. Speaking a foreign language is not an absolute requirement, and many immigration lawyers speak only English, but I can’t tell you how many times clients have told me that my ability to speak to them in their language eases their stress (good for them) or made them want to hire me in the first place (good for us both!).
Now, I’m not saying that you need to go out and start learning a new language (although I highly recommend it as a way to enrich your life, if not your practice), but I’d like to explore the thought of language in general. Some of my colleagues who speak only English have great immigration practices handling visa petitions for corporate clients—and their ability to speak the language of HR or of the corporate world serves them well. Though not a musician myself, I have an understanding of the music business and how to fit that into the U.S. visa process, which helps me connect with foreign musicians who are seeking artist visas. And if I can communicate that in a language other than English, so much the better.
What are some of the languages that your clients speak? An ability to connect with them by “speaking their language,” even if not literally speaking their language, can help create trust between lawyer and client. Obviously, you have to find something between the too-general standby of the weather and a highly specific topic, but taking the time to get to know your client will typically yield some commonality that will enable you to build rapport. This could include showing a sincere interest in something that is important to the client if it’s outside your realm of experience or demonstrating your own knowledge of a topic of interest to them that allows for an opening of communication. The key is to get to know them.