Spear: Are you speaking a different language than your client?

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Good news! No matter your location, chances are that you are surrounded by an underrepresented population of people in need of legal services. Large cities and small towns alike are experiencing a growth in non-English-speaking communities, and undocumented or not, they have legal needs that far exceed those of just immigration. Unless you are actively looking for those communities, you may not even realize the extent to which they are present in your area. They are families that experience marriage and custody issues, they are workers who have employment and injury-related issues, and they are entrepreneurs who have business formation needs. In fact, due to language barriers, more trivial matters such as traffic tickets, insurance matters and ordinance violations are areas of concern for them, as well.

“But I don’t speak a foreign language. How can I assist these clients?”

1. Non-English-speaking communities are underrepresented in two ways: First, there is a lack of bilingual attorneys, and second, they are more vulnerable to overpricing and lower quality services. While these clients typically prefer to deal with a bilingual attorney, they are usually just as pleased if dealing with an attorney who will provide quality services at a fair price.

2. Find a bilingual attorney who doesn’t practice in your area of law and have him/her serve as co-counsel. It will be a learning experience for them, and in return you will get your interpreting needs met.

3. Many immigrants have been in the United States for many years and actually speak English quite well. If not, most have family members who do speak English and who could at least help you get through an initial consultation.

4. Hire a law clerk or paralegal who is bilingual and have them be more involved with your non-English-speaking clients. If your practice begins to grow, you may consider hiring a bilingual associate.

5. Learn a new language! It is never too late to learn a foreign language. It takes time and patience, but if you made it through law school, you already possess the work ethic and dedication to learn a language. Start taking your vacations to foreign countries, make friends with your non-English-speaking neighbors, take a class, download a language learning app or buy some computer software. If you still have 10, 20 or 30 years left of practicing law in front of you, think of the benefits that will come from adding a foreign language to your skill set.

As you begin to grow your non-English-speaking client base, keep in mind that many areas of law do intersect with immigration law, so the potential effect your case may have on the client’s current or future immigration options should be discussed with an immigration lawyer. Most immigration attorneys tend to handle some criminal law, but other than that will steer clear of most other areas of the law and may be a great resource to you as you begin to expand your practice.

“How can I start to grow my non-English-speaking client base?”

1. It is important that you let other attorneys know that you are now offering your services to non-English-speaking clients. The more people that know your plans, the more likely you are to get referrals.

2. Update your website, create a second set of business cards and consider marketing opportunities that will target the non-English population. Many cities have radio stations and newspapers that will get you access to the non-English-speaking population in your area.

3. Non-English-speaking clients are an excellent source of referrals. Make it a point to ask them to refer their family, friends and co-workers to you for any legal needs. Your non-English-speaking client base will grow on its own as you provide great service.

4. Eat at an ethnic restaurant once a week and leave a business card with your waiter, introduce yourself and let them know what services your practice offers.

5. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. There will be times when communication is difficult, but there are ways to ensure you understand your client and your client understands you.

If you are looking to grow your client base and to expand your practice, there is an opportunity in serving the non-English-speaking population. If you don’t fill the need for quality legal representation for this group, someone else will.•


Andrew Spear is a Spanish-speaking general practitioner in Indianapolis. He is a second career attorney who is absolutely thrilled to have found joy in solo practice life. He and his wife have four kids and firmly believe that quality family time is essential to a happy life. He is the owner and managing attorney of Spear Legal Services LLC and looks forward to a long and rewarding career as a solo practitioner. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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