Some time ago I discovered a weblog called the [non]billable hour. It has a feature called "Five by Five" where five experts provide their five answers to a given question. Inspired by it, I decided to speak to the five ways in which I believe lawyers can provide better service to their Hispanic customers…
I address this subject fully assuming that you Mrs. / Mr. Lawyer have realized the opportunities that exist through catering to the needs of the largest minority in the Nation. To successfully accomplish this, some adaptations must take place within your practice:
1. Have a
multicultural & bilingual staff:
Even if your client speaks perfect English, with our without an accent, you
must be aware of the fact that they could be much more comfortable and/or
acquainted with the legal terms in their native language. So recognizing that
simple fact and having at least one bilingual member of your staff, well versed
in legal terms in Spanish as well as in English, will have a big impact in your
practice. Still, speaking their language accounts for only half the battle, the
person who acts as a liaison between you and your new clients ought to
understand their culture. It really doesn’t matter if he/she is Hispanic or
not, they must know what Latinos hold close to their hearts, what makes them
tick, what to stay away from, and be able to achieve a comfortable, clear
interaction between all parties involved.
Remember that Latin American countries have legal systems based on Civil Law, while the United States’ is based on Common Law. Be aware of the differences and be ready to explain them, if needed, to your Hispanic clients.
2. Empathize with your Latino/a client: Make a conscientious effort to recognize the person in front of you. They are seeking your council, your expertise, and they will cherish you allowing a couple of (non-billable) minutes for small talk, show your “unguarded” side. It doesn’t need to be a long period of time; a couple minutes per visit will do. Bottom line, get to really know your clients and let them really get to know you. Whether you are a real “people person” or not, please be yourself, do not put on a show (you may not be as great as an actor as you think you are). They are not expecting you to be all “touchy-feely”, they just need you to openly show you are dealing with another human being, and you truly acknowledge their presence and their needs.
3. Do NOT succumb to stereotypes: When talking about Latinos / Hispanics, you need to fully understand that there is as much, if not more, diversity among them as within Non-Hispanic whites. You can go from the low-income, first generation, Spanish-only speaking person, all the way to the other end of the spectrum to a very wealthy, 4th or 5th generation, white collar individual, who barely speaks Spanish or does not speak it at all, to anyone and everyone in between. Then you have to add other layers of complexity… To which country or countries can their roots be traced? What is their level of Acculturation / Assimilation?
not judge them by their looks or their accent. Even if 65% of all Latinos are
from Mexican descent, do not take that piece of information for granted. Ask
questions and carefully listen to the answers in order to adapt and react to
the new information being gathered.
4. Do your homework: If you are really committed to grow your Hispanic practice, make it a habit to keep on learning about their culture, demographics, immigration trends, idiosyncrasies… Find online resources, magazines, newspapers, TV networks/programs that give you a broader perspective. Gain as much possible knowledge prior to openly beginning to attract Latino customers, but use it as pure research and display it openly only if the situation calls for it, otherwise you’ll come off as condescending.
5. Recognize the market potential: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2050 Hispanics will constitute 24% of the nation’s total population, or 100.8 million people. Which means that one out of four of your potential clients will be a Latino/a. Get a head start; begin investing time, effort and money in this community today. Show them you are there, show them you care. By delighting one Hispanic customer today, given that their relationships at both family and acquaintance level are stronger, there is an enormous potential for referrals. Begin today, it makes good business sense.