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Se Habla Español: Benefits of Being a Bilingual Litigator

William J Hale

Se Habla Español: Benefits of Being a Bilingual Litigator
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It should be no surprise that English is by far the most common language spoken in the United States.  However, there is a substantial section of the population who are either not proficient in English or are more comfortable in their native (non-English) language. With that in mind, being able to speak a second language is a useful skill for attorneys in their representation of clients.

Communicating with Clients

Probably the most obvious benefit is being able to communicate with your client directly. The use of an interpreter slows down the communication process and often raises cost, and having no barrier in communication with your client allows him to more accurately convey his wishes and more actively participate in obtaining justice.

Access to Justice

When a person cannot speak English, she often either does not know what resources are available to her or cannot effectively access the means to get justice for wrongs done to her. There are also individuals who take advantage of non-English speakers because they know it is much harder for such people to respond to suits. While it is possible to use an interpreter, it can often be a real deterrent to those seeking assistance. Speaking the client’s language can solve a lot of those problems and invoke a greater level of trust in the attorney-client relationship.

Verifying Translation

Since English is the most common language in the United States, all official court proceedings, depositions, etc., must be conducted in English with the use of an interpreter if needed. This is true even in cases where the attorneys on both sides and the judge all speak the same non-English language. However, in such cases there is still a benefit to being bilingual. That ability helps to ensure that the translation of documents is being done accurately during the proceeding. If there is a discrepancy, it can be addressed or clarified immediately to ensure the information on record is accurate. 

If you fluently speak any language other than English, be sure to emphasize this as a sales point for your services. Focus on search engine optimization for the language (i.e. if a potential client Googles “French-speaking attorney,” you want to be at the top of those search results) and consider releasing advertisements in that language. To the extent you have room in your schedule for pro bono activities, you may also consider donating time to access to justice initiatives in your community.