International business disputes are on the rise and as a result law firms are hiring attorneys with foreign language skills to handle the increase in work. The catch? Most of the jobs are only temporary.
For example, Apple’s lawyers recently contracted for dozens of Korean-speaking independent contractor attorneys and document reviewers to help them wade through the last minute discovery that Korean manufacturer Samsung Electronics made in connection with their patent battle over smartphones.
Law firms used to hire translators fluent in such languages as Spanish, Japanese or Hebrew, but now realize that they can hire attorneys fluent in those languages and get more skills for their money. The law firms pay the foreign language-speaking attorneys about the same amount they used to pay the translators. Hence, more bang for the buck.
Word got out about Apple’s use of the Korean speaking attorneys when its law firms in patent infringement investigations, Morrison & Foerster LLP and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, filed documents with the U.S. International Trade Commission in connection with two such investigations before the ITC.
One expert noted that it is unusual for law firms to bring in so many contract lawyers simultaneously. Such mass hirings usually happen when a lot of documents have to be reviewed in a relatively short period of time.
Most of the attorneys who are hired are struggling to find permanent jobs at firms, and they see this as an opportunity to not only be gainfully employed, albeit for a limited period of time, but also as a way to practice their language skills. The pay averages around $45-$70 an hour. If the multilingual attorney has expertise in a particular field, he can command roughly double this amount. Regular contract attorneys only earn around $20-$40 per hour.
The global economy’s tilt towards Asia has translated into a growing demand for attorneys fluent in Asian languages. Other major hot spots are Brazil and India.
The reason firms hire temporary bilingual attorneys rather than keeping a few permanently on staff is because the inflow of work in the international arena which would require a staff of such qualified attorneys is uneven, at best.
Therefore these firms turn to temp agencies for their staffing needs. These temp attorneys help the firm narrow down the legions of documents written in foreign languages to the relevant ones that are needed in trial preparation. The temp agencies bill the law firms around $75-$150 per hour, depending on the attorneys’ expertise and knowledge in related fields such as computers and engineering. Few of these temp attorneys are able to make the transition to full-time work at the law firms where they are providing temp services.
Besides the boom in patent work, there is extensive automotive litigation which has created the need for Japanese and Korean speaking attorneys. Also seeing an uptick is corporate bribery investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which requires Russian-speaking attorneys.