Most U.S. based law firms run on the English language, whether they are interacting with the judicial system, government agencies, other attorneys, corporations or other third parties. But what happens when the client doesn’t speak or write English very well or at all? How can you provide them the legal services they deserve? Understanding new translation options will help your firm to be better able to serve ALL of your potential clients.
At Case Status we are launching Real-Time Translation. Real-Time Translation is a powerful message translation service incorporated into the Case Status platform. Firms can leverage translation functionality in the Case Status platform designed to allow bi-directional communications in multiple languages. This will allow firms to expand their clientele they serve, benefiting both the firm and those served in their communities.
How much of your market doesn’t speak English?
In the United States, nearly 1 in 10 people speak English less than very well according to census.gov. As consumers, these people tend to gravitate toward service providers and brands that can and do accommodate their preferred language. Not all businesses can accommodate their needs and preferences.
Digging a little deeper, depending on the state or country where the consumers reside, that percentage can jump to as high as 40%-50% of the population. Check out this interactive map to get a better understanding of what counties look like across the country. States like California, Texas, Florida and New York are above the national average and tend to have counties with substantial non-English speaking populations.
This trend is further amplified given that some non-English speaking populations have a higher demand for legal services by percentage. For example, consider personal injury and workers' compensation practices. America’s Hispanic population is disproportionately affected by auto accidents and injuries while working compared to the general U.S. population. It stands to reason, then, that personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys will benefit most from targeting Spanish-speaking and bilingual prospects in particular geographies. But only if they have the means to communicate with these potential clients.
What languages are most often spoken?
Spanish is the most commonly spoken language other than English, but it’s not the only language worth noting in some geographic areas. Chinese, French, and Vietnamese are also popular, and all represent upward trends of growth.
How does language translation needs apply to law firms?
For lawyers, your business is really not very different from other consumer businesses. To see how important translation is for other businesses, just check out all the Shopify Apps that help sellers on that platform to reach buyers that do not speak English. The technology has been in the wild for many years and the accuracy continues to improve.
Now consider your potential legal clients: if you cannot bridge the communication divide in a similar way, they will likely not choose your firm. This is more substantial than stating on your website that “Hablamos Espanol.” All industry research tells us that most hiring decisions come from 3rd party review sites like Google Business and from direct referrals. If the online reviews in public spaces tout a firm's ability to communicate in their preferred language, the chances are much greater that this firm will be considered. If your language engagement is lacking, the reviews and referrals will not follow.
What options do law firms have to address these needs?
So what options do law firms have? Let’s break them down one by one
- Status quo is to simply do nothing. This is what a lot of firms are doing. If you are in a state or region where English is dominant, then you are probably okay. Many counties across the country can see rates less than .5% for consumers that do not speak English very well. But keep in mind that some of your potential clients speak English as a second language, so they may still prefer to communicate in their native language. The question is how do you accommodate them, and what is the payback.
- If you are a solo attorney, perhaps you or someone on your staff could consider learning a new language. According to research, it can take about 480 hours of study to reach basic fluency. Assuming a conservative rate (your opportunity cost) of $200/hr, we are talking $100k of valuable time spent to learn a language. And that would be one language. Given all that you have going on with your practice, this option is very remote in the realm of possibilities.
- Hire bilingual staff. Many firms arguably use this strategy and advertise on their website “Se Habla Espanol.” This is a first step, and gives the firm an edge with the largest non-English speaking populations. For those who haven’t taken this step, according to Ziprecruiter, the average salary for a bilingual employee will include a 5-20% premium. Assuming an attorney with an average salary of $125k, that could cost $25k a year more to the firm. Keep in mind that bi-lingual staff are great for one-on-one engagement, but they are hard to scale for automated or mass messages. Also keep in mind that an English-speaking attorney can have difficulty translating historical communication threads after the fact.
- Use an online tool like Google Translate. More and more with technologies like Google Translate, the options to interact with consumers in their native language are growing. For example, an English-speaking staff can type an email message up to 5000 characters and cut and paste it into a service like Google Translate. Then they can translate and cut and paste the translated portion back to the email and send, following the reverse procedure when the client replies back. This can be useful from time to time, but will not scale given all the extra steps that have to be taken each time.
- Use Translation Services. Translation services are readily available in the market, but they come at a premium. Prices for translation can be $30-125 per page if you are dealing with documents. Sometimes services will charge by the word: pricing can range from $.08-$.40 per word. Although this might be good for a one off endeavor, it doesn’t scale. Just consider 7 emails of 30 words each sent back and forth with your client every month. Assuming you could get this service done in a timely manner, it would still cost between $15-80 per case per month. Not really scalable.
- Use Integrated Technology. As we saw with the Shopify examples, enabling translation into your communications tools is a great step. The translation can apply bi-directionally with written communications like email, text, and other channels, and it can be instantaneous. It is not limited to one language like other solutions, and the price tends to scale.
At Case Status we are launching Real-Time Translation. Real-Time Translation is a powerful message translation service incorporated into the Case Status platform.