Cross cultural challenges in law

    Cross cultural
    04 October 2018

    Cross cultural challenges and how we overcome them at Zaparas Lawyers

    With 49pc of our population being born overseas or having at least one parent who was, Australia is undoubtedly a nation rich with diversity.

    Given its status as a cultural capital, this situation is especially pronounced in Victoria and thus presents our legal profession with significant and unique cross-cultural challenges. 

    This is because the diversity that we see in our community is also naturally reflected in the backgrounds of clients that come to see us at Zaparas Lawyers seeking specialist advice on their personal injury law matter.

    Culture is a collection of perceptions that determines our behaviour and life styles, and what differentiates us from one another.  Like in any field, the challenges faced by a lawyer working in a multi-cultural background are numerous. 

    These challenges can arise from a pre-conceived perception about a certain culture and of stereotypes towards certain people based on their heritage.  A lawyer with a prejudicial state of mind towards a cross-cultural client is not in a position to do justice to the client. 

    Equally, ethnocentric biases also present challenges. Ethnocentrism is identified as seeing the world through a narrow mind, only according to the values and attitudes found in one’s own culture.  It does not acknowledge the different perceptions that the other person may have. 

    Taken together, a failure to overcome these differences can often lead to poor communication and in some instances a damaging of the professional relationship between lawyer and client.

    Fortunately, cross-cultural challenges can be overcome through training one’s self to be “culturally competent”.  Cultural competency can be acquired through one’s willingness to understand and recognise various cultures and also how cultural backgrounds inform a persons’ own understanding, behaviour and responses. 

    Practicing good communication is an integral part of acquiring cultural competency.  At Zaparas, we always take great effort to listen carefully to the concerns of our clients and to give our lawyers the skills to interpret the body language and mannerisms in the context of a particular culture. 

    One way to achieve good communication between lawyer and client is through the use of open-ended questions in a client interview. Open-ended questions can assist us in understanding the full context behind what a client might be experiencing and, by having the opportunity to fully explain their circumstances, can also make the client feel more at ease.

    Finding common ground and working through similarities and differences will also undoubtedly help break barriers between a lawyer and a cross-cultural client.  Tolerance for ambiguity and patience are essential skills to have in order to achieve this as confusion can often arise in situations where clients of non-English speaking background either communicate very vaguely or through an interpreter.  

    At the core of resolving most of these difficulties however is trust. A lawyer’s ability to show empathy and heightened sensitivity, rather than showing interest in the mere substantive aspects of the client’s words often leads to trust developing between the parties.  In a context where trust is built, cultural misunderstandings reduce to a minimum and leads to a stronger professional relationship.  

    At Zaparas we always strive to be non-judgemental and open-minded thereby making ourselves and the work that we do more approachable to those outside of the legal profession.

    The law can sometimes be a particularly difficult area where cross-cultural issues may arise. The complexities of legislation and judicial processes can often be difficult to explain and using dominant Western ideals as a benchmark to understand other cultures, particularly non-Western cultures, can also have negative impacts.  

    Certainly, improving cultural-competency is a skill that all lawyers should recognise as compulsory to effectively work in a multi-cultural society, as it is only through knowing better, that one can in fact do better.

    Within our firm we are proud of our expertise in representing clients from all walks of life with varied cultural backgrounds. Among our staff alone we speak over 15 different languages and work hard to reflect the level of diversity that we see in our community amongst our legal teams. 

    Keshani Samarakoon

    Lawyer

    WorkCover