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Do you speak “textish”?

When it comes to representing a diverse clientele, cultural differences and styles of communication come into play.

Richmond lawyer Charles M. Allen has a good handle on what it takes to represent a range of clients. Allen started out doing criminal law and now does intellectual property work. Across the 28 years he’s been practicing, he has been working with “diverse” clients, that is, clients of a different race or ethnicity.

Allen and Norfolk lawyer Mary Morgan spoke at a conference on “Diversity and the Practice of Law” for the Virginia Women Attorneys Association in Williamsburg on Oct. 1.

Lawyers don’t have far to look for “diversity,” they said. In the 2000 census, 34 percent of U.S. respondents claim “minority” status, so it is virtually certain Virginia lawyers will represent a diverse clientele whether they intend to or not.

In Allen’s current IP practice, he has to cope with different styles of communication. For instance, for some young entrepreneurs, their favored mode of communication is “textish.” They only communicate by text message, which can challenge a lawyer’s ability to be succinct.

Cultural differences also can crop up.

Allen discussed a case in which he represented a physician in a noncompete dispute. The doctors on each side of the issue both were members of a certain ethnic group. A senior physician, of the same ethnicity, was a mentor for the group. The doctors who were at odds were interested in going to the senior colleague first for mediation. Allen was reluctant to take the senior physician’s deposition.

But ultimately, he realized “it really was so important to the two parties to know what he thought, that when this person from their culture weighed in, the case settled. Having known that, I would have taken his deposition sooner,” Allen said.

He also has to account for cultural differences when it comes to billing. In many countries, people are antagonistic to an a la carte IP legal fee system.

Lawyers who are trying to market their legal services to other countries, or to nationals of other countries who are working stateside, may need to generate a menu of legal services with discrete prices, Allen indicated.
By Deborah Elkins

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