Why New (And Not So New) Lawyers Should Be Brushing Up On Their Spanish

UPDATE:  New statistics say By 2050 U.S. Could Have More Spanish Speakers Than ANY OTHER COUNTRY.

First, this is not a political post. I will be laying out facts and projections. The goal is for you to use the information (or not) when thinking about the (very near) future of your law practice. Period.

I am a Gleek. I admit it. And never was I more Gleeky than the week Ricky Martin made his guest appearance on the show singing ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It.’

But, that’s not really what this post is about. What it is about is what Ricky Martin’s character, the new Spanish teacher, said to his night students wanting to learn Spanish:

… by 2030 more Americans will be speaking Spanish as their first language then English.

I was a little surprised, too! That’s less than 18 years away! The stars then took turns singing songs in English and Spanish, the not-so-subtle message being we all need to hone our spanish language skills.

Well, I couldn’t find anything online to support this statement but I did start hunting around the internet to find some studies. I’ve known for quite some time the hispanic and latino population is the second largest ethnic population in the United States. For years we have all been aware how large companies including food manufacturers, utility companies, and the government have printed materials in both English and Spanish and their voice systems give you the option to continue instruction in English or Spanish.  What is the language your children are learning in (public) school as early as third or fourth grade? How many Spanish-speaking cable stations are available? And even with all these indicators, I’m not sure the average person fully understands how quickly this shift in demographics will be upon us or how fully and appropriately to embrace it.

What I did find is support for this fast-moving shift in the U.S. population.

The U.S. population will soar to 438 million by 2050 and the Hispanic population will triple, according to projections released Monday by the Pew Research Center.The latest projections by the non-partisan research group are higher than government estimates to date and paint a portrait of an America dramatically different from today’s. The projected growth in the U.S. population — 303 million today — will be driven primarily by immigration among all groups except the elderly.

Even if immigration is limited, Hispanics’ share of the population will increase because they have higher birth rates than the overall population. That’s largely because Hispanic immigrants are younger than the nation’s aging baby boom population. By 2030, all 79 million boomers will be at least 65 and the elderly will grow faster than any other age group.

The projections show that by 2050:

  • Nearly one in five Americans will have been born outside the USA vs. one in eight in 2005. Sometime between 2020 and 2025, the percentage of foreign-born will surpass the historic peak reached a century ago during the last big immigration wave. New immigrants and their children and grandchildren born in the USA will account for 82% of the population increase from 2005 to 2050.
  • Whites who are not Hispanic, now two-thirds of the population, will become a minority when their share drops to 47%. They made up 85% of the population in 1960.

This information is from an article in USA today written in 2008.  This is a projection which has probably changed, yet again, these past four years.  In 1992 projections had the U.S. population at 383 million and White, non-Hispanics at 53% in 2050.  The 2004 projections  have White, non-Hispanics decreasing to 50.1% in 2050.  Bear in the mind the years of these projections. Here is some state-specific information on projected growth and a chart on current percentages by state.  However, the trends clearly indicate your state will see a sizable increase in its Hispanic and Latino populations going forward. And this is reflected in the fact that as of 2011 there are almost six thousand elected officeholders in the United States who are of Latino origin.  There is also a member of this growing demographic sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor.

Back to your solo/small firm practice.  Will you be incorporating this information into your business plan? Your hiring decisions? Your marketing materials?  Will you start considering practice areas which address this growing population? Will you bring on ‘Of Counsel’ or a paralegal or virtual assistant who speaks Spanish?  Will you have a translate button on your online portal or on your web presence?  Do you have any of this already?

I also want you to pay attention to what was indicated in addition to trending population growth.  The Hispanic population is a ‘younger’ population overall with higher birth rates.  This means traditional practice areas which cater to a younger demographic are going to do very well.   This includes all consumer law arenas –  real estate, bankruptcy, divorce, trusts & estates, personal injury, business, patents & trademarks, special education, fertility and adoption, etc.

Time to start learning that second or third language if you haven’t already!

Articles of Interest:

Hispanic Population Exceeds 50 Million, Firmly Nation’s No. 2 Group

Pew Hispanic Center - information relating to Hispanic demographics, social trends, education, and more

Solo Practice University Faculty Announcement – Vonda K. Vandaveer teaching Immigration Law

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6 comments on “Why New (And Not So New) Lawyers Should Be Brushing Up On Their Spanish

  • So basically Ricky Martin was pulling numbers out of thin air.
    The fact that white non-hispanics will be less than half the population in 2050 is hardly saying the other 53% will be all speaking Spanish as a first language, which is what he said.
    Is it a growing minority? yes. Will it be more than half the population in 20 years? no.
    Pero siempre esta un buen idea saber dos idiomas.

    • Vincent, did you click over to any of the links, especially the ones from the Pew Hispanic Center? The statement made by the character was just a trigger for me to do a little more research into this fast growing demographic.

      Why don’t you check out some of the stats which TODAY have California and Texas at 37% of the population being Hispanic/Latino. Florida is at 22%. Whether it will be 2030 or 2050 or even 2070, the trend is undeniable and it will change this country’s demographics and how businesses reach potential clients/customers.

  • Susan, love that you are a Gleek. I have to admit, Ricky does have a nice smile. I wish they would’ve selected songs more representative of Spanish Music (LMFAO, Madonna and Elvis don’t quite cut it, though Mercedes did rock that Gloria Estefan song.)

    I do have a translate button on my website. I use WPML plugin. For my business, it’s important for first-generation immigrants to be able to access the information on my website in their native language. Second-generation immigrants, like myself, are probably more comfortable with English, so not such a big deal.

    • Paul, I was talking to someone else about translate buttons. He said that most people who need translation more than likely have a program they use for all sites and utilize accordingly. So a translate button on your own site was redundant. BUT, I’m not sold on this. Providing the convenience, like you have, is much smarter and if WordPress makes a plugin, it’s silly not to utilize.

      BTW – the show was funny. But I’ve been a Ricky Martin fan since he first exploded on the scene during the Grammy’s with Living La Vida Loca :-)

  • Does your friend expect Spanish speaking consumers to search for the English term, figure out what the description is saying and then once on the website, convert everything to Spanish. I don’t thing it works like that.

    The way I have it setup, there’s an actual spanish page which search engines can find. All the SEO and meta description is in Spanish also. It’s more work, but a great benefit to both sides.

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