Posted on September 19, 2018

Being A Spanish Speaking Lawyer In Chicago

I’m 6’2” and all my ancestors are from Great Britain. Actually, I’m Canadian by birth.  Yet, here I am, one of the Spanish speaking lawyers in Chicago.

When I speak Spanish with a good accent (rolling Rs) people are often confused.  The best compliment I ever received was when someone complimented my English after I was done speaking Spanish.

So, here’s the explanation on why I speak Spanish and if I focus on that community, etc.

I grew up in Canada where it was mandatory to learn French (at least at my school).  I fumbled through my French classes as a child but, in the end, I could speak and understand French.

When I became licensed as an attorney in November 2006 the legal market had completely soured and I took a position as an associate at a small firm in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago.  This was not the gentrified neighborhood it is today.  Most of the cases we took were criminal, bankruptcy and divorce.

My boss at the time, advertised in Spanish and I took it upon myself to learn the language.  I love a long-term project!

Every day as I drove between courthouses, I listened to Pimsleur language tapes and repeated after the teacher aloud.  Every night, I worked through Spanish grammar books to understand the fundamentals of the language.  I turned a frequency dictionary into flashcards and memorized a thousand Spanish words and their meanings.  After a year, I was still fumbling in Spanish.

During my second year of learning I sat with a Spanish-teacher at a Panera Bread every morning. We’d work through lessons for an hour and a half.  Now, I was starting to get good.  I could read and write in Spanish.  I could discuss legal issues with my Spanish-speaking clients.  But, I still couldn’t speak Spanish on the phone.

I quit my job, and spent a month in Cuernavaca, Mexico.  I lived with a Mexican family that didn’t speak a word of English.  I went to a Spanish language school every day for 5 hours and then went out with my Mexican “brother” in the evening (I bought him a lot of drinks).  At the end, I was dreaming in Spanish.

I came back to Chicago and opened up my law firm and Spanish-speaking people were my first clients.

It’s been my pleasure to help members of the Hispanic community as they deal with divorce, bankruptcies, immigration,  criminal charges and personal injury cases.  All of my paralegals speak both English and Spanish.  For all this Spanish talk, my clientele is only about 1/4 Spanish-speakers today.

In court, I’m often called upon to do impromptu translating if the court translator is not present.
Often, if the judge speaks Spanish (several do) and the clients speak Spanish, we’ll conduct the entire hearing in Spanish.

Most often, the judges and the court system in general simply don’t have the time to accommodate people who don’t speak English.  Judges have relied on my integrity to explain the issues of the Spanish-speaking parties and accurately enter orders on their behalf.  I make sure the system is fair for everyone, whether you speak English or Spanish.

If you have a relative or friend who needs a lawyer who speaks their own language, Spanish, then contact my Chicago, Illinois law firm for a free consultation with a Spanish Speaking Lawyer in Chicago.   They can also learn more about Illinois family law and divorce law on my Spanish language website.

To read this article in Spanish, click here.

If you’re in Chicago and would like to learn Spanish, I’d recommend you start with classes at the Instituto Cervantes just one mile from my office.  Directions below:

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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