Sept 18th – Networking Event Welcoming New LL.M. Students

JOIN US Tuesday September 18, 2012 at Toro Lounge as we welcome new LLMs!  Come meet practicing attorneys, current LLMs, foreign attorneys and law students in the tristate area.

Hosted by your favorite New York County Lawyers Association’s (NYCLA) Multilingual Lawyering Committee

Toro Lounge @ Smyth Hotel,85 West Broadway at Chambers St., New York.
Lounge is easily accessible via the 1/2/3 or A/C trains at Chambers Street or N/R or 4/5/6 at City Hall

*RSVP requested, but not required (RSVP here by sending me a comment or via our Facebook or LinkedIn pages)

Cash bar and bar menu*

On the other side of the world with a problem close to home.

We all know a story of someone who signed a contract written in a language they did not understand.  It seems China has the same complaint.  I would like to present two stories that might hit home for multilingual lawyers.

This article in Xinhuanet shares stories of Americans in China who are of the view that contracts in China should either be in English or, if they are in Chinese, should not apply to them even when signed. The Xinhua article highlights William Arrington, an American who found out the hard way that a Chinese apartment lease contract he signed actually applied to him even though he did not understand it.  When the housing management company came to collect maintenance fees, Arrington argued: “Isn’t that included in the monthly rent?”

“No, the contract says clearly that the maintenance fees are not included in the rent,” he was told.

Mr. Arrington proposed a fail-safe solution to prevent someone else from falling prey to the legal problems that he incurred.  Arrington suggested that the government make it a rule requiring all contracts involving foreigners be bilingual.

The article in Xinhuanet brought up another story speaking to a problem in the same vein.  James Baquet was a teacher in China whose landlord spoke English.  “My landlord is a Chinese lawyer who speaks good English and he explained the lease terms to me. I had to rely on him, although I did not know if I should trust him,” said Baquet. So, he signed the contract but added a line below his name: I CANNOT READ CHINESE.

Wang Xinle, a lawyer with Shentiancheng Law Firm, said Chinese law did not require bilingual copies for all contracts involving foreigners.  By signing their names, parties to a contract agree to its terms.  Baquet’s note that he could not read Chinese did not help him.  As Dan Harris, attorney at Harris & Moure, pllc, commented, “If you sign a contract written in Chinese, it is a valid contract whether you understand Chinese or not.”

I couldn’t help but read this article and draw parallels between China and the U.S.  While the American legal market may be oversaturated right now, these stories highlight contract issues that arise worldwide as well as the need for multilingual attorneys.

Language and the UN- are we on the path to Esperanto or maintaining linguistic diversity?

The Universal Esperanto Association hosted a symposium on May 1, 2012, on the topic “Language and the United Nations,” during which it considered the role of language in the operations of the United Nations and the ways in which linguistic concerns intersect with United Nations programs.  (Link to the program guide here:  This program raised an issue that you have probably considered and that deserves some attention.

As you are aware, there are hundreds of languages swarming the globe, raising communication challenges in the legal, financial, business, medical and other fields.   I’m sure you have heard of the two main solutions to communication challenges: (1) using interpreters/translators which help to safeguard the linguistic identity of the speakers or (2) asking everyone to speak the same language, like Esperanto.

UN organizations such as UNESCO have devoted particular efforts to the preservation of linguistic diversity, the linguistic and cultural rights of indigenous peoples, the right to mother-tongue education, and the preservation of endangered languages and cultures. In the field of human rights, the issue of language rights, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments, is receiving increasing attention.

We also know that, in the UN and several other organizations, there is a tendency to see language at the formal level as a technical problem rather than as an issue that is fraught with ideological, political and cultural implications. This tendency to downplay the significance of language can be seen as an ideological, political and cultural choice, leading to potential distortion of the mission and accomplishments of the organization.

In a sense this tension reflects a larger tension in society as a whole – between those who welcome the forces of globalization as a way of opening opportunities for all and those who fear that global homogenization will lead to the loss of a sense of identity and individuality.

Built into the very purposes and mission of the United Nations is the idea of an alliance of the nations of the world in free association to improve the lot of humankind and to advance equality, democracy, and material and spiritual well-being of all nations.  Therefore, would their mission be more accomplished if they were to encourage linguistic diversity or monolingualism?  I invite your opinions!  Please let me know what you think!


The Multilingual Lawyering Committee is a new committee at NYCLA  serving multilingual attorneys and/or attorneys interested in multilingual practice issues by building a sense of community, fostering your professional development, expanding your network, and connecting you with the latest information about local opportunities and activities tailored to your interests.

We are looking forward to hosting many exciting events, such as speaker panels, skills workshops related to building legal vocabulary in various languages and cross-cultural negotiation, ethics for multilingual attorneys and intermediaries, etc.