Why Cultural Competency is a Must-Have Skill for Growing Law Firms 

cultural competency law

Consider this: If you were paired, at random, with another American, there is a 61.1% chance that the other person will be of a different race or ethnicity.  

Is this a lot higher than you would anticipate? The reality is that the U.S. population is rapidly becoming more diverse. Do the majority of your clients or prospective clients have the same cultural background as you? Do you tailor your business practices and marketing (e.g., photos on your website, the way you communicate) to the communities you are hoping to serve? If not, you may be missing out on an opportunity to expand your client base.  

At the Future Is Now conference, which will be held virtually on Thursday, April 20, Nkoyo Effiong Lewis will explain why cultural competency is a “must-have” skill for all legal professionals (even those in typically less-diverse areas), and provide strategies on how lawyers and law firms can increase their cultural competency to provide a holistic client experience grounded in dignity and respect.  

What is cultural competency? 

Nkoyo describes “culture” as our lived experiences including our language, food, traditions, religion, class, race, gender identification, sexual orientation, etc., and the intersection of these things in our lives. Cultural competency, then, refers to the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral skills that lead to appropriate and effective communication with people of other cultures. 

As an attorney, people from different cultures and backgrounds will likely seek (or need) your help to solve legal problems. However, if you do not market your services to these individuals or are uncomfortable with the way that they communicate, the opportunity may pass you by.  

Some examples: A Black family may be more likely to seek out and trust the services of a lawyer who displays diverse clients on their website. Western cultures typically view eye contact as a form of confidence, but some Eastern cultures see it as a sign of disrespect. And observant Muslims and Orthodox Jews refrain from shaking the hand of the opposite gender. 

In her talk, Nkoyo will explore simple steps lawyers can take to expand their cultural competency, no matter where they are starting.  

While we see a lot of racial diversity in urban areas of Illinois, it isn’t as prevalent in more rural areas. However, diversity is more than race.   

Diversity includes a range of human differences, including but not limited to ethnicity, gender identification, age, social class, location, physical ability and attributes, religious or ethical values,  national origin, etc., as well as the other categories listed in the explanation of culture.  

When looking through a diverse lens, lawyers better evaluate if their legal services are fair and equitable to every client. 

Cultural competency in law = building trust

As a client-driven profession, professional and inclusive customer service is vital to a successful business.  

Legal clients come to lawyers at the most vulnerable moments of their lives. They may be new to and uncomfortable with the legal process and place their trust in their attorneys.  

However, according to the 2019 World Justice Project, 66% of individuals surveyed in the U.S. reported experiencing a legal issue within the past two years. Of those, fewer than half reported accessing help from either a lawyer/“professional advice service” or governmental legal aid organizations.   

By becoming trusted and sympathetic advisors, attorneys can better communicate the value of their services to potential clients, who might otherwise choose to represent themselves.  

Cultural competency is one way of building this trust. 

Attend the Future Is Now 

In addition to Nkoyo’s talk, the Future Is Now will feature discussions on topics like how to respond to incivility in legal practice, building sustainable law firms, and how attorneys can advocate for their mental health. 

We hope you will join us on Thursday, April 20. Registration is open, but time is running out. Don’t wait, register today. 

Attendees are eligible to receive 4 hours of professional responsibility CLE credit, including 1 hour of diversity and inclusion CLE credit and 1 hour of mental health and substance abuse CLE credit. 

The virtual conference will be held on the HopIn conference platform.

5 Ways Attorneys Can Increase Their Cultural Competence

ABA Releases Guidance on Language Access in the Client-Lawyer Relationship

Reimagining Law: DEI in the Legal Profession – What’s Working and What Isn’t

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