Hiring and Managing a Bi-Lingual Receptionist

If you want to build a bilingual legal practice, choosing a good bilingual receptionist is a very high priority. Your receptionist is a key interaction that clients will have with the firm, and often the first contact that new clients will have with your law practice. Selecting and managing that person or service is an important part of building your relationship with your clients. Ensuring that he or she is well prepared to interact with your clients in a manner that will make your practice effective is very important. There are many resources that you can take advantage of to make the process go more smoothly.

Recruiting and Hiring Yourself

There are several different ways to recruit bilingual staff. You can recruit yourself through advertisements in local papers or on Craigslist at www.craigslist.org and the Bilingual Job Board at www.bilingualjobboard.com. There are also language specific boards, such as www.ihispano.com which specializes in Spanish jobs. There are websites that focus on job recruitment in foreign languages. If there are local papers in the language you are recruiting for, listings in those papers would give you a wider array of candidates.

Professional Call Services

There are several different call services that can provide a legal practitioner with access to highly skilled bilingual employees: ReceptionHQ, www.receptionhq.com, provides a professional call answering service in several languages, including Spanish; DaVinci Virtual at www.davincivirtual.com, Alert Communications at www.alertcommunications.com These call centers can provide Spanish only receptionists. While Ruby Receptionists and Total Attorneys provide great receptionist services, thus far they do not have Spanish speaking receptionists available.

There are many advantages to professional call services, including reduced costs, staff with uniform skills and convenience. The staff does not get to know your clients, however, and you do not influence how the staff is trained, which is a significant tradeoff in a relationship driven business.

Professional Staffing Agencies.

There are many professional staffing agencies that can provide staff to you. They will test their skills and preparation for the position and this can often be a good choice. It does, however, increase the costs significantly. If you hire the person permanently, there is an upfront fee. If you hire the person on a contract basis, you pay a premium for the agency’s providing of the staff. Most employment agencies in major cities can provide candidates for you to consider.

Testing

To find good candidates and weed out those who may not be comfortable in a truly bilingual work environment, you may want to have a test in both English and the foreign language, written and spoken, and reading comprehension. Again, many persons who speak a foreign language may not be comfortable working in that language. Having a good sense of your employees’ strengths and weaknesses will improve your working relationship with them, and their working relationship with your clients. There are professional tests such as ALTA, www.altalang.com, as well as general tests.

A Special Concern

If you are hiring bilingual staff, you may want speak with them about how they learned the language they speak, and any professional experience they have had will be especially helpful. A word of caution, be careful how you ask about their language skills, because questions about their country of nationality or anything that may appear to be a question of their heritage in violation of the EEOC.

Managing Your Receptionist

You can work well with staff who do not have a great deal of professional experience in bilingual or multilingual environments with a bit more preparation. You may want to lay out more detailed scripts to prepare them for their interactions with your clients. In addition, even if everyone in the business is bilingual, it is a good idea to decide on a single language standard in which to maintain your records. While at some point everyone in the practice may be bilingual, that may not always be the case.

The Legal Language Barrier

It is easy for attorneys to forget how much legal language they have accumulated and use in the course of their practice of law. There is a lot of technical and legal terminology that attorneys and their staff have to use on a daily basis. If you hire someone without experience in a legal environment, be prepared to bring them up to speed in legal terminology in all languages used in the office.

Culture vs. Language

It is good to make sure your receptionist is culturally competent. Depending on how and where a person gained their language skills, they may or may not be fully versed in the culture of many of your clients. To minimize problems, fostering a very professional and yet friendly approach to the business environment is very helpful.

What has been your experience?  Let’s discuss.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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