I grew up speaking Farsi at home, French at school and English with my friends. Now, as an in-house lawyer at Telus, I’m continuously amazed at the range of opportunities my language skills have brought me.
They’ve not only made me more marketable to employers, but they’ve also improved my creative-thinking abilities and helped me accumulate a trove of amusing travel stories that I can tell at networking events.
So when law students ask me if it’s worth the time to maintain their Mandarin or French skills, I say yes! Here’s what a second language (or a third!) can offer you.
1. More job opportunities
As the Canadian legal job market becomes increasingly competitive, one surefire way to stand out is to speak French. Whether you aspire to work in private practice or a large national corporation, knowing both official languages will get you face time with clients from across the country. For example, part of my job at Telus is to advise on contracts written in French. My company values that.
Also, let’s state the obvious: globalization is here to stay. As international law firms continue to break into the Canadian legal landscape, lawyers who can converse with clients from another part of the world will be highly valued. There will be more and more opportunities for Canadian lawyers to advise businesses operating in the growing economies of China or India. If you know Mandarin or Hindi, you’ll have a big advantage. So if you learned to speak either language at one point in your life, practice them often so you don’t lose it.
2. Smarter legal analysis
In Canada, federal laws are written in both languages. So when interpreting a specific provision, it helps to look at its counterpart in the other language. That’s because some legislation is more vague in one language than the other. If you can pinpoint which version is written more clearly, you can determine the true intent behind a piece of legislation much faster than your unilingual colleague.
3. A sharper mind
It’s been proven that learning a new language changes your brain. It challenges you to think differently and with better focus.
As a lawyer, you often come across complicated legal issues that call for out-of-the-box thinking. The workout your brain gets from knowing a second language will help you reach a creative solution in these situations.
4. Stories to tell at parties
And finally, a second language will help you when you’re travelling. And that, in turn, could end up helping you in your career. How? Well, travelling is a hot topic at networking events. There’s no better way to get a partner’s attention than recounting a compelling travel story. For instance, I was in northern Morocco this past summer and fell ill. We found a pharmacist who spoke French, so I was able to describe my symptoms and get the proper meds. Sharing these experiences make you more interesting at networking events when everyone else just yaps about their job.