Foreign language skills don't just come in handy when you're on vacation — they can also give your legal career a boost. Bilingual lawyers are in strong demand, according to a survey of attorneys from Robert Half Legal on the topic of foreign language skills. In fact, 42 percent of respondents we interviewed from the largest U.S. law firms and companies said that the legal market was seeing an increase in legal jobs requiring lawyers with foreign language skills. The demand for foreign language skills is among the top trends influencing hiring in the legal field.

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Spanish in greatest demand among foreign language skills

Spanish is the most sought-after language according to our survey, with 88 percent of respondents answering that Spanish was the most in-demand foreign language. This trend, in part, reflects the nation's growing Hispanic population, which is most evident in states such as California, Florida, New York and Texas.

In these regions of the country, law firms, corporate legal departments and nonprofits frequently request Spanish-speaking attorneys and legal support professionals for legal secretary, legal administrator and paralegal positions, as well as other legal jobs. Most positions are project-based and often involve document review and translation work for litigation or Latin American business expansion.

In addition, law firms located in areas with large Spanish-speaking populations are seeking bilingual staff with experience in family-based and employment-based immigration law. These states and other regions with large Hispanic constituencies are also seeing an increase in bilingual legal jobs in the public sector. More and more local government entities are seeking to fill full-time law jobs with bilingual legal professionals.

Rising demand in the legal market for Asian language skills

Ranking second among desirable languages in the survey was Chinese, a finding that echoes a larger legal hiring trend of more Asian language-speaking lawyers in cities like Los Angeles and New York. While Chinese, particularly Mandarin, leads Asian languages in terms of demand, attorneys who are fluent in Japanese and Korean are also highly marketable.

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Automotive, high-tech industries hiring bilingual corporate counsel

Industry trends are favoring corporate lawyers with foreign language proficiency as well. For example, the automotive industry is hiring bilingual corporate lawyers for litigation, while patent attorneys are in demand in the technology industry. This latter trend is especially true for software and cell phone companies that are based in Asia or doing business on that continent, as well as those litigating their competitors' suspected patent infringement. These legal jobs are also mostly project-based and commonly consist of exhaustive document investigation.

Foreign language skills have an ongoing importance for corporate legal departments looking to fill in-house counsel and paralegal jobs on a permanent basis. But while many of these new bilingual roles are temporary, ongoing demand could result in a steady stream of work for legal professionals. Junior corporate lawyers and recent law school graduates, for instance, are finding rewarding contract work in global-minded companies.

Foreign language skills and your legal career

It remains to be seen just how great an impact on legal jobs will result from globalization and immigration — not to mention policy changes in these areas. But as you consider the steps along your legal career path, bear in mind that the need for legal professionals who know a foreign language should continue as more law firms and companies focus on serving a more multicultural and globalized marketplace.

With office locations throughout North America, Robert Half Legal specializes in placing lawyers, paralegals and legal support personnel with law firms and corporate legal departments. Let us help you with your next legal job search.