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Knowledge is Power in Marketing to Law Firm's Foreign-Born Clients

Cross-cultural competence is important for lawyers who want to market legal services to foreign-born clients. Here are the tips that will help attorneys better understand their foreign clients.

As a lawyer, you feel pressure in the crowded marketplace. More often than not, penny-wise prospects view your services as just a fungible commodity. You recognize the increasing importance of differentiating your services to avoid the gloomy alternative of competing exclusively on price.

Such differentiation becomes even more significant when marketing to the individuals who don't share your language and culture. To avoid the commodity trap, consider positioning your company as a provider of choice in the eyes of foreign-born clients.

The stakes are high. But due to the current demographic trend, the odds are stacked in your favor. The nation's foreign-born population now accounts for 12 percent of the total U.S. population. As time goes by, members of this growing consumer segment will continue to own businesses, obtain mortgages and buy homes, and otherwise participate in the economy. Therefore, they'll continue to need legal, accounting, architectural, financial and other professional services.

Now is the right time for your professional services firm to be noticed by foreign-born clients. And here are some basics to consider:

Take heed of differences.

Did you know that English is the only major language in which the pronoun "I" is capitalized? Not surprisingly, the mainstream individualistic American culture values the "I" mentality, and puts the emphasis on the individual over the group, in contrast to collectivist cultures, where a person's identity is rooted in his/her group, or in "we" mentality.

More likely than not, your foreign-born clients come from a collectivist culture.

Therefore, it helps to approach every contact with a culturally diverse prospect as you would approach a situation with many unknowns. Coach your staff to tolerate differences and to expect them. Work on developing cross-cultural empathy, which is the ability to see the world through the eyes of culturally diverse clients.

Understanding is the foundation of empathy. So research topics such as the language, religion, customs, history and politics of your foreign-born client's country of origin. Use this information only as a reference. Avoid stereotyping and generalizations. Understand that your client could be influenced by such factors as the length of his/her residence in the United States, the level of his/her education, and professional and economic status.

Use one-on-one interviews to understand them.

Interview your foreign-born clients. Tell them you want to see things from their perspective. Ask them why they use your firm. Ask them why they use other firms. Ask them how people in their culture resolve conflicts and how they decide to do business with one another. Find out more about their cultural rituals and important celebrations.

Such one-on-one discussions can shed priceless insights into the target audience's thought and emotional processes. For example, your clients may stress their inability to comprehend the concept of a "no-fault divorce"; mention why certain dates are inappropriate to conduct business; the significance of conducting a home blessing; explain their cultural expectation that the mother always gets the children in a divorce; or dwell on the concept of the loss of face in their culture.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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