Why Cultural Knowledge is Important for Representing Foreign Clients
Providing excellent legal representation to foreign-born clients involves more than just learning their language or hiring a professional interpreter. In order to fully appreciate a foreign-born client’s needs, motivations, fears, dreams, and thought process, it is necessary to have at least a basic understanding of their cultural background, which may be quite different than the culture shared by the law firm’s members.
In addition, lawyers cannot successfully market themselves to foreign born clients without understanding the basics of the clients’ culture and the manner in which conflict is typically addressed and resolved in their country of origin.
There are a number of topics which lawyers may find it helpful to research in order to more fully understand their foreign born clients’ perspective, including, but not limited to:
• Language (including dialects of the main language)
• Communication styles
• Ethnic distinctions
• Political structure and governing authority of country of origin
• Legal system and methods of conflict resolution in country of origin
• Cultural norms/taboos
• Reputation of lawyers in their country of origin
• Role of lawyers in their country of origin
By immersing oneself in the above matters, a lawyer seeking to serve foreign-born clients will begin to develop a sense of cross-cultural empathy, which can be a valuable asset when developing and cultivating client relations. Foreign-born clients will likely have an increased sense of trust and respect for an attorney who has taken time to learn his or her culture.
Once lawyers have conducted their own research into their clients’ cultural and ethnic backgrounds and develop a basic understanding of the each of the above issues, lawyers should not be afraid to ask their clients questions about their clients’ language, culture, and life experiences in their country of origin. This will no doubt serve to further develop the attorney-client relationship and can provide excellent insight on how to best approach the client and how to most effectively meet his or her needs.
In addition, the personal information gained during such cultural discussions can yield information that may be helpful at a later date once the case has progressed. For example, informing a jury about a client’s life experiences and challenges in the client’s country of origin can be useful in personalizing a client to the jury and in garnering empathy and respect for your foreign-born client. Likewise, educating a jury on cultural or ethnic differences can provide the lens through which the jury can view a client and the lawyer’s case.