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DLA Piper’s ‘Law for Linguists’ panel: language degrees, transferable skills, and global mindsets

On Tuesday 8th February, UCL’s Law for All Society was pleased to welcome DLA Piper to host a ‘Law for Linguists’ panel which offered valuable insights for aspiring lawyers studying language degrees at university.

Studying languages at university is an immensely rewarding experience. It develops critical thinking skills, a meticulous attention to detail, and both written and oral communication, all while opening doors into new cultures. As such, language students are equipped with practical, transferable skills that make them well suited to a career in the world of law.

This is something which was aptly alluded to by Antoinette Hayes, Early Careers Recruiter at global law firm DLA Piper. The panel began with a concise overview of the firm itself, where Antoinette explained the truly global nature of the firm which has over 90 offices across 40 different countries, spanning Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific. The firm operates in eight global practice areas including Corporate, Employment and Litigation, and across 10 global sectors, including Financial Services, Industrials and Technology. The firm’s global reach is attractive for language students from both a working and a personal development perspective.

Alongside such international corporate reach, though, Antoinette also stressed the importance of pro bono work to the firm, with 228,825 hours of pro bono work carried out per year, which is startlingly the equivalent of 130 lawyers working pro bono full time. Pro bono work is focused on global issues, including climate refugees, asylum rights, and peace building and conflict resolution. It is therefore no surprise that the firm’s pro bono practice is ranked no.1 in the world.

Following this comprehensive introduction, attention turned to two other employees of the firm who both studied language degrees. First was Ed Aldred, Associate in Litigation & Regulatory. Ed studied German at Oxford University, and only decided on law relatively late on in his academic journey. It was upon attending a talk on his year abroad in Berlin given by the defence lawyer of a serial murderer that Ed found inspiration in law. From a philosophical perspective, Ed found this particularly interesting, and continues to be stimulated by the intrinsic ties between philosophy and the law in his career today.

Regarding the application of his language degree to his career in law, Ed has found there to be many transferable skills that allow him to carry out day-to-day activities efficiently and effectively. The most useful ones for Ed have been the ability to fully understand the tone of language and the varying weight that different words carry. He has found this to be useful across the whole job, particularly when it comes to drafting documents, where word selection is crucial to success.

Ed then passed on to Emily Judge, a Trainee Solicitor in Finance Projects & Restructuring. Emily studied French and German at Warwick University, and interestingly participated in a Vacation Scheme at a US law firm but was wholly uninspired by it. Upon attending a DLA Piper talk, though, her appetite for law was reinvigorated, and she successfully applied to the Firm. Emily uses her languages frequently and has enjoyed the language exchange group which was set up at the Firm. The group allows colleagues to informally chat in different languages so that they can maintain their proficiency in them.

Emily has found her language skills to be particularly useful when it comes to litigation, especially during disclosure exercises – the process whereby each party is required to make available to the other party documents which are relevant to the issues in the dispute. Here, the ability to speak two other languages allows her to scan over documents that might usually be sent to translators, thereby speeding up this laborious process. Emily was also the go-to person for random translation tasks, particularly as part of the transactional team, where her language ability made her an asset.

Both panellists also alluded to the way in which their language skills aid them in their day-to-day communication within the firm. As mentioned previously, language degrees open doors into previously inaccessible cultures. Working as part of a truly global business, both Ed and Emily liaise daily with colleagues across multiple countries. Both mentioned that communication is instantly improved when they can interact with an employee in their native language, as it stimulates a more human connection, and has the potential to turn what would be simply a colleague into a friend.

Ultimately, whether it is analysing a piece of French philosophy, completing Spanish verb exercises, or participating in a political debate in Italian, language degrees have endless potential when it comes to application in the field of law. The ability to analyse language, and both present and evaluate arguments, are skills which can be carried into the most complex of legal issues whether it be negotiation, litigation, or arbitration. This, combined with the emotional intelligence which is acquired through language study, makes the language student an asset to any law firm, in particular global ones like DLA Piper where interaction with different cultures is at the core of their global mindsets.

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