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Second-Language Skills Increasingly Important in Legal Field

In an increasingly global and multicultural marketplace, lawyers and other legal professionals with bilingual abilities are being sought by law firms and legal departments alike to meet the needs of their clients. According to a new survey by Robert Half Legal, 42 percent of lawyers interviewed said they are seeing rising demand for attorneys with second-language skills. The survey involved interviews with 200 lawyers with the largest law firms and corporations in the United States. Spanish was identified by 88 percent of attorneys as the language in greatest demand. Chinese ranked second with 9 percent of the survey response, and 3 percent cited “other.”

Needs Reflect Changing Demographics

Part of the burgeoning demand for lawyers with multilingual abilities identified in the survey can be tied to the nation’s shifting demographics, most notably an increase in the Hispanic population. In November 2012, The Pew Research Hispanic Center reported that there are 53 million Hispanics in the U.S. who comprised 17 percent of the total population and this segment is growing. California, of course, is experiencing much of this demographic change. Recent projections released by the California Department of Finance indicated that the number of Hispanics in the state will equal that of white non-Hispanics by mid-year and exceed it in early 2014 for the first time.

In the San Diego legal services market, law firms and corporate legal departments frequently request Spanish-speaking attorneys and legal support professionals (paralegals, secretaries and legal administrators) to meet the needs of their clients. Many are hiring for project-based roles, as both law firms and general counsel often require short-term assistance with document reviews and translation work related to litigation or business expansion into Latin American markets. In addition, law firms as well as nonprofit organizations that provide legal services to Spanish-speaking immigrants often have a need for bilingual attorneys or legal support professionals on a full-time or consulting basis.

Litigation Driving Demand for Second Language Skills

Requests for Spanish language skills are common in the greater Los Angeles legal market, which is somewhat similar to that of San Diego. In addition, Robert Half Legal’s account executives in its downtown Los Angeles branch, which serves the greater metropolitan area, Orange County and the Inland Empire, are seeing an increase in the number of requests for legal professionals who possess fluency in Asian languages, particularly knowledge of Mandarin. Cantonese, Japanese and Korean language skills.

Bilingual legal professionals are being sought with greater frequency by law firms and companies for international litigation, patent filings and intellectual property matters. In both San Diego and Los Angeles, the need for Asian language fluency is being driven by a surge in patent prosecution in the high-tech industry, especially among software and cell phone companies that are either based in Asia, doing business there or litigating suspected patent infringement by Asian-based competitors.

A recent lawsuit between two technology giants over smartphone patents illustrates on a large scale what is taking place in numerous markets across the U.S. One of the parties engaged dozens of contract attorneys and document reviewers who were fluent in Korean to examine litigation-related documents provided by opposing counsel. As the number of multinational transactions and disputes grows, this trend toward both law firms and corporate legal departments hiring bilingual attorneys on a project basis to assist with e-discovery and document review is likely to continue.  Other sectors are actively hiring bilingual professionals to assist with document translation and analysis. For instance, litigation in the financial services, telecommunications and automotive industries is sparking demand for document reviewers who can bring both foreign language and legal skills to the task at hand, helping to winnow down a daunting amount of information and pinpoint what is worthy of closer scrutiny.

Immigration and Globalization

  • Few organizations now operate within a single country. As a result, many law firms are providing legal counsel to American-based corporations with multinational business interests, offering legal services to foreign clients with business ties and investments in the U.S. and handling an increasing number of global transactions and litigation matters. To better meet their clients’ needs, law firms are seeking attorneys who are not only bilingual but who also understand the nuances of international law.
  • Immigration is another legal practice area where attorneys with foreign language skills are needed. States that are experiencing strong demand for Spanish-speaking legal professionals include Texas and Florida, which have the largest populations of Hispanic-origin residents behind California. A review of legal job postings also suggests that Spanish-speaking legal professionals are in high demand in other areas of the country, including Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina. In addition to immigration, a number of law firms, especially those in Texas and Florida, are seeking Spanish-speaking legal staff with experience in family law and labor and employment matters. Some local government entities in states with large Hispanic populations also are trying to attract bilingual legal professionals for full-time positions.

Unquestionably, this is a good time to be a bilingual legal professional. Not only is being bilingual an important differentiator in today’s job market, but having the cultural literacy to accompany second-language proficiency will be a highly marketable attribute as globalization continues to impact the legal profession in the years ahead.

Diana Domeyer

Diane Domeyer is a District Director for Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also provides managed review and e-discovery services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and international markets.

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPersonal Development

About the Author: Diane Domeyer is a District Director for Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also provides managed review and e-discovery services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and international markets.

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