Assisting Spanish-Speaking Clients as a Paralegal

A recent census indicates that Latinos make up approximately 30% of the Phoenix, AZ population. This is one of the qualities that makes Phoenix special. So it should come as no surprise that business professionals that embrace the city’s ethnic diversity excel. However, what if you don’t speak Spanish? In this piece, we look at how paralegals can better assist Spanish-speaking clients.

Good communication skills are an essential part of the paralegal profession. Nonetheless, the longer you work in the field, the more you’ll encounter situations that make it difficult to communicate with your clients. For example, is your employer equipped to assist clients who only speak Spanish?  If you’re unable to answer this question, you’re not alone. Many legal secretaries and paralegals have found themselves grappling with the same question.

Since everyone deserves competent legal assistance, regardless of their first language, it is important that you deliver the same level of service to all of the firm’s clients. Here are four tips that can aid you in assisting Spanish-speaking clients.

Learning Spanish as a Paralegal and Legal Secretary

According to the US Census Bureau, the United States is the 5th largest Spanish speaking country in the world. Nearly 38 million people, across the nation, speak Spanish in their homes. Of this number, 25 percent speak little to no English at all. Additionally, given the growth that the Spanish speaking population is experiencing, these numbers are expected to rise.

In light of the above, we believe that learning Spanish represents a viable option for legal secretaries and paralegals looking to assist Spanish speaking clients. Of course, with the massive caseloads that many paralegals are accustomed to carrying, finding the time to learn Spanish won’t be easy. However, the benefits could be tremendous—both on a professional and personal level.

While speaking Spanish isn’t the sole option for paralegals, serving Spanish speaking clients, it does offer several unique advantages. Namely, it gives you the best opportunity to relate with your clients, on a personal level. This should make it easier to communicate with your clients to obtain any information required to advance the case. Likewise, if you’re able to speak your client’s language, you leave less up to chance.

Spanish Translation for Paralegals

Another option is for legal secretaries and paralegals, serving non-English speaking clients, to hire a professional translation or interpretation service. Although legal translation may not be the most effective method of communication, it does at least give you a general idea of your client’s situation. Additionally, there are times when choosing an outside translator service is more practical than attempting to handle translation and interpretation in-house.
For example, while holding a conversation with someone in Spanish may only require a basic understanding of the language, deposing a Spanish-speaking witness would require an expert level of language competency. So if you don’t possess a high degree of Spanish proficiency, you may still want to use a professional translator.

What Paralegals and Legal Secretaries Should Know before Hiring an Interpreter

Although it offers many benefits, interpretation has its limits. For instance, using an interpreter to assist with Spanish speaking clients means that you’re forced to rely on the interpreter’s version of what was said. It’s also easy to miss out on the original speaker’s emotions, when hiring an interpreter.

Nonetheless, despite their limitations interpreters and translators can help you grasp the key facts and enable you to ask the important questions. So to ensure accuracy, set some basic boundaries between you and your translator – upfront – to ensure that he places emphasis on what the client emphasizes. Likewise, if unclear on an issue, you can probe the interpreter further to ensure that you’ve captured the full meaning of what was said.

Furthermore, even if you decide to use an outside translation or interpretation service, you can still learn Spanish – which will allow you to pick up any details that the translator might miss.

Spanish to English Transcription

Just as there are times that call for Spanish to English interpretation, as a legal secretary or paralegal, you will also encounter situations where Spanish to English transcription is required. For example, if a deposition is conducted in Spanish, you’ll most likely need Spanish to English transcription. In these types of situations, it helps to have a court reporter who offers Spanish to English transcription services.

Attracting Spanish-Speaking Clients  

Marketing to the Spanish speaking population offers unique advantages. Namely, since it tends to be a close knit community, it only takes a few satisfied clients to build a large Spanish-speaking clientele via referrals. Likewise, the clients whom you’ve helped in the past, may also come to rely on you for subsequent cases.

Additional ways to reach Hispanic Americans include advertising in local news publications that target this demographic, including the phrase “Se habla español” on your marketing materials and tapping into the power of the Internet to reach US based Spanish-speakers.

The bottom line is that Spanish to English translators, Spanish-speaking legal assistants and Spanish to English transcription services are all viable responses to assisting Spanish-speaking clients. However, if you really want to deliver stellar service — while enhancing your paralegal resume — learning Spanish is a small price to pay for the clients that you’ll be able to help.