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Lawyers and Languages

Do lawyers need to learn a second language?

Despite the trend against globalisation, the legal world has refused to co-operate so far. If you look at any big law firm, they will have offices in several countries, links to other law firms around the world or they might even have merged to create a super law firm such as DLA Piper.

The outward-looking ethos of these law firms has not yet extended to lawyers from the UK. Brits reluctance to learn a second language is well-known. A recent internal survey for our parent school Unique Language Training found that 39% of young native English speakers did not bother learning a second language because 'most people speak English,' while another 14% posited that 'most other languages are not useful'.

Speaking a foreign language is useful

Patricio Grané Labat, partner of London-based international law firm Volterra Fietta, who speaks three languages states that many international law firms will not hire candidates who do not speak a second language. 'In our profession, language skills are critical because, as international lawyers, we apply our trade with words. It is certainly something I look for when I recruit, if a candidate is not fluent in other languages I generally would not consider them – if I do it’s usually for a discrete assignment,' he told The Guardian newspaper.

Specialist language schools such as Legal English UK excel at providing tailored programmes to lawyers and law students. Course Director Chris Mitchell said that while many Spanish and Italian lawyers learn legal English as a matter of course, it is rare to find Brits trying to learn legal Spanish or legal French, for example. 'There is so much competition for places at law firms that candidates need to stand out as much as possible. One clear way to do that is with linguistic ability. It is also a skill that one can transfer to other areas of your life.'

Shortage of British lawyers

There is also a shortage of native English-speaking lawyers working for international institutions. A spokesman said "when I was recruiting lawyer-linguists at the European Court of Justice – and even today – I found that there is a dearth of suitably qualified prospective English candidates in law with an additional language. With an additional language, you are able to communicate better and more widely, and the mere fact of having this sub-discipline indicates your ability to concentrate and deploy your language skills in the legal practice.'

Higher remuneration

In addition to the higher salaries and increased employment prospects available to multilingual lawyers, a high degree of personal satisfaction can be achieved from one's work. Aleksandra Skrodzka, a law graduate from the University ofHull, who speaks Polish, Slovak and French, secured a placement as a legal translator at the European Commission in Brussels. She told a British newspaper that “it definitely sets you apart because we’re living in a multicultural society. At the European Commission, I translated complex acts of parliament and it gave me great satisfaction because combining law with a language equips you with cultural awareness.”

Robert Volterra, partner and principal of Volterra Fietta, who speaks French, Spanish, Italian, and English points out another advantage of having a strong command of a second language: “For any law firm that engages with clients or adverse parties that are from different cultures and language groups, having staff who are multilingual is beneficial".

Legal English Language Training runs regular language courses for legal professionals in London, online, and worldwide. For further details fill in the form on this screen or telephone 44(0) 20 3566 0145.

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