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Tag: law careers

Why I think every lawyer should learn a language

There are over 7,000 languages spoken across the globe. Why, in an industry with communication and collaboration at its core, would you only want to speak one, asks Katie O’Brien, law and Spanish student at the University of Strathclyde.

Throughout school I often felt pressured to find my niche, scrambling to hone in on one singular thing. I failed to see the beauty of my wide-ranging passions. When I turned 18, leaving school and most of the pandemic woes behind me, I was faced with a seemingly monumental decision, what now?

Only through my own research did I stumble upon studying Law and Spanish at University. Law was a combination of my love of English, history, and politics whilst Spanish allowed me to continue learning a language I cared so deeply about in school.

At the time it seemed like the best of both worlds. What I didn’t expect however was that these two worlds would slowly start to blend and overlap. Now as I approach the end of my second year of study, they have become so interconnected I fail to see how one could ever exist without the other.

The use of language is crucial to any legal system. We use it to create statute, to interact with clients, to advocate for people in courts. We are constantly interpretating it differently to minimize or expand our tolerance for certain behaviour. This is why judges will often apply different meanings to even the smallest words.


Equally, cases will turn on these alternate meanings to make significant decisions. Decisions which may have been wholly different if every word remained unchanged. Areas of family law, for example, highlight very clearly the role language plays in defining and reflecting changing social attitudes.

Today, language interpretation allows for a more expansive view of what is considered family or marriage, than what would have been even 10 years ago. Regardless of context, it is vital that as people change, the law changes too and language use is always the first step in doing so.

Despite this, whilst law continues to be an attractive career path for young people, languages are often seen as useless in comparison. But the two go hand in hand, and our view of language learning should reflect this.

Languages have broadened my capacity to understand people, their behaviour and attitude towards society. I believe that having a well-rounded view of humanity, our differences as well as what defines us as a collective, will aid me to become a far more understanding, flexible and perceptive lawyer. Compassion lies within the heart of law; above anything else, clients want to feel like you care about them.

Dan Jurafsky, the chair of the department of linguistics at Stanford University says, “discovering what’s universal about languages can help us understand the core of humanity”. Therefore, if we accept the premise that understanding and demonstrating empathy is at the heart of being a good lawyer, we must also accept the role languages play in creating and embedding such values within us.

If this doesn’t entice you to pick up a language, the increase in your professional value might. Speaking a second language will set you apart from other candidates when trying to secure a training contract, and your ability to communicate with the locals, translate and review foreign documents will certainly make you a frontrunner when it comes to overseas seats.

As more firms offer international secondments, and as the idea of globalisation continues to have a firm grasp on the industry in general, there is no better soft skill to have than another language.

The significance of language in the legal sphere and the advantages it brings is undeniable. Understanding more than one legal system, language and culture can open up a world of opportunity. The relationship between law and language is one of mutual exclusivity. Thus, it is crucial for future lawyers to know that choosing to do both is not only viable but extremely important. For me, law is a vehicle for change and language is the tool.