By Luz E. Herrera
The 2010 Census data revealed that Latinos constituted 16.3 percent of the total U.S. population. Approximately two-thirds of the Latino population is concentrated in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, and Texas. However, between the years 2000 and 2010, every state in the country experienced an increase in its Latino population, and this group’s growth is expected to account for about one-third of our nation’s population by 2050.
The Spanish language plays a prominent role in Latino ethnic and cultural identity. Despite the fact that 74 percent of Latinos are U.S. citizens and the majority are English dominant or literate, just 39 percent of Latinos across age groups speak only English at home. A 2011 nationwide survey revealed that 90 percent of Latinos want their children to speak Spanish while becoming English fluent. Whether the Spanish language continues to be the second most-spoken language in the U.S. remains to be seen. For now, this language community offers economic opportunities for lawyers and law firms who know how to market to and serve this significant population.
Marketing Trends for Latino Spanish Speakers
In April 2012, Nielsen marketing group released a consumer report on the state of the Hispanic market. It stated that “[i]f it were a standalone country, the U.S. Hispanic market buying power would make it one of the top twenty economies in the world.” While the report focused on the purchasing power of the Latino population as a whole, the report noted that language and cultural dynamics result in different technology and media patterns for the Latino population when compared to the general market.
The relative youth of this population makes it more likely to adopt new media trends. In 2010, Latinos constituted 23.1 percent of children and had a median age of 27, compared to the general population median age of 37. Although Latinos are less likely than the general population to access the Internet from their home, the Nielsen study revealed that nine out of 10 Latinos accessed the Internet through work, school, public places and extended family members. This community was found to more commonly accesses the Internet through mobile devices and more likely to own smartphones. In fact, Latinos were found to consume more mobile data service than any other ethnic group.
The Nielsen report reveals that companies, such as Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s and AT&T spend over $5.7 billion on Spanish language advertising because they get a good return on their investment. Nielsen offers the following four guidelines that can help you develop your law firm’s marketing strategy:
- Latinos remember English language content as well as the general population.
- Recall for the same content when offered also in Spanish increases up to 30 percent.
- Latinos expressed a 51 percent preference for ads viewed in Spanish instead of English.
- Latinos prefer Spanish-speaking talent to develop the marketing script.
It may be easy to dismiss the Nielsen findings, since most solo lawyers and small law firms who are interested in serving the Spanish-speaking population do not have large marketing budgets. However, what the report offers are some important strategies that can be implemented in community law practices that serve the underrepresented Spanish-speaking population.
Best Marketing Practices for Law Firms
Between 2002-2008, I ran a solo law practice in an underserved community in Los Angeles County whose population was approximately 65 percent Latino, of which at least 60 percent were Spanish-speaking. Although individuals from outside that community sought my services, the demographic breakdown of my client base across city boundaries was similar. During those six years in private practice and my involvement with a nonprofit organization that helps many self-represented Spanish speakers navigate court filings, my recommendation for best marketing practices for lawyers who target the Spanish-speaking population are:
- Communicate in Spanish. If you want to tap into the Spanish-speaking market, you need to communicate with them in their language of preference. If you do not speak Spanish, consider hiring junior lawyers, paralegals or law clerks that can help you effectively communicate with your Spanish-speaking clients. Spanish-speaking staff can help interpret your conversations with clients and be instrumental in translating your client communications.
- Translate Marketing Materials. Lawyers should consider investing a portion of their marketing budgets to hiring professional translators to translate their websites and other marketing materials. Hiring a staff member that has the time and the skill to translate such materials is ideal. However, be aware that even Spanish-speaking staff may need training to properly translate legal terms in Spanish. In many instances, legal terminology does not translate easily given that most legal systems in Spanish-speaking countries are civil law systems that have not developed common law traditions. Consider hiring translators trained to work in the law sector and also keep in mind that the Spanish dialect they use reflects that of your client base. These small steps indicate to Spanish-speaking clients that you understand their language needs and are doing the best to address them.
- Educate the Community. As is true of many other clients, Spanish-speaking clients often do not understand legal procedures and etiquette. Helping clients, whether prospective or actual, understand the law and the process that applies to their particular legal issues is important in helping them contextualize their rights and responsibilities generally. Many lawyers have found success in participating in weekly radio shows, in writing legal information columns or in organizing a legal education workshop to a group of prospective clients. Ultimately, a more informed client results in greater engagement, collaboration and understanding of the ultimate result.
- Build Relationships. To build a lasting Spanish-speaking client base in today’s competitive market, a lawyer must devote the time and show interest in establishing a relationship with such clients. Many Spanish speakers report hiring attorneys who advertise in Spanish but who never meet with them. The primary contact for the lawyer becomes the staff member, who often provides counsel outside of the attorney’s direction. Spanish-speaking clients are happy to work with support staff or junior attorneys so long as the attorney is also engaged in their case. Even if you do not speak Spanish, it is important to develop relationships with your Spanish-speaking clients.
- Invest in Compliance. Working with a new client base and new methods of delivering legal services can raise a number of questions about a lawyer’s professional responsibility. It is important that lawyers consider the ethical implications of employing marketing strategies to a new client base.
For example, Spanish-speaking clients, like other legal services consumers, will increasingly ask their lawyers to communicate with them using smartphone technology. Given the relative youth of this population, the need to deliver legal services online will grow. In order to keep up with market trends, lawyers need to devote resources to ensure their law firm practices comply with confidentiality obligations.
Also, advertising representations made in Spanish, such as “Se Habla Español,” are subject to the same ethical duties required of English language advertising. Spend the resources required to ensure that your staff and agents are sufficiently trained to understand that information presented should not be false or misleading. Clever marketing schemes that based on misleading information can lead to adverse consequences for you, your staff and your clients.
As you grow your practice and face new issues that relate to serving Spanish-speaking clients, please consider using the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities as a resource. We look forward to working with you to finding innovative and responsive ways to making legal services more accessible to Spanish speaking clients and others who are similarly underserved.
About the Author
Luz E. Herrera is the chairwoman of the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities.