The Best Languages for Lawyers?

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The Best Languages for Lawyers?

Post by thedragon5678 » Fri May 29, 2020 2:15 pm

I am fluent in Spanish and know some Italian and Portuguese, but I've been itching for something new. I am interested in international human rights. I know the UN uses French, but what other languages would be the most valuable in international law? What languages are most valuable in BigLaw? What languages are most valuable for human rights? I want a language that makes me the most marketable and gives me and edge when applying for jobs. So far I am considering German, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or Arabic. I want a challenge and I'd consider going abroad for a few months to learn.

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Re: The Best Languages for Lawyers?

Post by cavalier1138 » Fri May 29, 2020 2:43 pm

It's going to be based on the kind of work you want to do. There are very few lawyers who just do "Human Rights Law" without a specific focus area. If your focus is substantive, then you don't need any specific language proficiency. If your focus is on a specific region, then regional languages are obviously going to be the most helpful (for example, I think Quechua is becoming increasingly helpful if you want to practice in Central/South America). In that situation, you're going to be more useful in the human rights field if you speak a language that an affected population speaks, not necessarily the area government, who is more likely to speak English.

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Re: The Best Languages for Lawyers?

Post by The Lsat Airbender » Fri May 29, 2020 3:24 pm

In addition to cav's advice, which is great, there's something to be said for learning a language which is underrepresented among lawyers (and therefore harder for employers to find). Indigenous American languages like Quechua or Mayan fit the bill; French and Mandarin less so.


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Re: The Best Languages for Lawyers?

Post by Anon-non-anon » Fri May 29, 2020 5:45 pm

While I don't fully disagree with the above, I have seen quite a lot of postings that require French. Spanish to a lesser degree, but as others have mentioned, that's more about being able to communicate with the effected people.

Arabic, Farsi, and Portuguese could all be useful for various reasons. Arabic and Portuguese is useful for a lot of big law too due to the clients and, as someone else said, fewer american lawyers that speak the language.

Just bc it's related, a friend of mine who was otherwise unqualified to get into an elite DC lit practice got a 3L offer with some hustling and being fluent in French, Arabic, and English.

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Re: The Best Languages for Lawyers?

Post by Redamon1 » Sun Jun 28, 2020 7:25 am

If your goal is to work in an international organization, then your Spanish will be very helpful. As additional languages, I would suggest French or Arabic. Others’ suggestions of a niche language will help you get a niche job that requires that language. The more broadly used languages will give you more options. Speaking one UN language fluently isn’t all that special, that’s true, but speaking three is rare.

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Re: The Best Languages for Lawyers?

Post by Wild Card » Sun Jun 28, 2020 1:28 pm

It depends on where you work and what you do.

A M&A attorney will inevitably encounter French and Chinese.

Ropes & Gray likes hiring from my law school students of Korean descent who can speak and read Korean--but, to be honest, I don't know what work they're doing (M&A or something else).

All of the languages you listed will help you stand out: the issue (and reason) is, they're monstrously hard to learn from scratch.

I therefore recommend sticking with French, since it's closely related to the Neo-Latin/Romance languages you already know, and because as you say it's already the lingua franca (so to speak and in effect) of the international law community.

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