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Video 4: 7 Cultural Differences in Working with North American Clients

7 Cultural differences in working with North Americans

1. “I hate lawyers”

In the United States, the general public has a negative perception of Lawyers. A survey done demonstrated the following.

  • 74% of those surveyed agreed that “lawyers are more interested in winning than in seeing that justice is served.”
  • 69% believed “lawyers are more interested in making money than in serving their clients.”
  • 57% claimed that “lawyers are more concerned with their self-promotion than their client’s best interests.”
  • More than half (51%) agreed that “we would be better off with fewer lawyers.”

Generally, in the United States the public associates going to a lawyer with being in trouble and it being expensive. Therefore, there is a tendency to avoid lawyers.

On the other hand, in Latin America, we have many transactions and tasks that will require the involvement of a lawyer or at least a Notary Public who under many civil law systems are also lawyers.

As such in dealing with North American clients you will need to alleviate the perceptions they are coming with by explaining clearly why they require your services for a particular transaction.

2. In North America we tend to trust the rule of law, regulations, and fact. While in Latin America we build trust through personal relationships and feelings.

In Latin America family and friends play a central role.

This carries over to business relationships as well. They want to know more about you as a person. They might not care that you have superb experience and know all the facts and have a top reputation. It could all turn on if they like you because the relationship can carry more weight.

3. When does Yes really mean No.

North Americans tend to be very direct and will express their dissatisfaction or disagreement directly. In Latin American culture the tendency is to maintain harmony through face-saving indirectness. As a result of this, the word YES can sometimes actually mean NO.

This is because in general terms in Latin America they struggle to say “No” and will find ways to deflect the word. If you engage with a North American client, try and be as direct as possible since vagueness and uncertainty will create a lack of trust in the relationship.

4. In “America” This is the way it is done.

You will find that most North Americans lack a clear understanding of how the legal and judicial systems function in Latin America. They will tend to compare the task they are doing in your country with how it is done in their home country.

In the United States for example many commercial and real estate transactions do not require the involvement of a lawyer. The process tends to be very straightforward and simple to execute. As such when they encounter the very formal procedures in your country if it is not explained in detail in advance, it can be a major source of frustration.

Something as simple as opening a bank account can become overly complicated in many countries of Latin America. The more you can break down and explain the process in advance the less friction with the North American client along the way.

5. Answer in 24 Hours

The increase in social media and the use of smartphones means that the speed at which you are expected to reply is evolving.

For North Americans, a recent report determined that when contacted by e-mail 44% of them expected a response in 24 hours and 21% expected a reply in one hour.

What I have found in my practice is that in Latin America the preferred communication is by phone particularly by WhatsApp and Facebook messenger.

On the other hand, North Americans still prefer communication via e-mail or voice communication by telephone.

So, a good rule of thumb in dealing with North Americans is to try and respond within 24 hours. If you fail to do so they will interpret your lack of responsiveness as a lack of quality of the service they will receive and may look elsewhere.

6. What is all this going to cost me?

If you are looking to build a client-centered legal services practice then it will start with your pricing and fee model.

In North America, there is a shift occurring between the traditional hourly billing model and a flat-fee billing model or something that combines them both.

Since the North American perception of Lawyers is that they are expensive they generally will ask you upfront what the services that you provide will cost them.

In the United States for example it is very normal to speak openly about money. In Latin American Culture speaking about money upfront may be considered vulgar and it sometimes becomes difficult to pin down exactly what legal services will cost. This lack of clarity can break down the relationship with the client before it begins.

7. How long will this take?

In North American culture the concept of “time is money” is entrenched in society. Wasting time is not acceptable.

On the contrary in Latin America, we are known for our “manana” attitude which can mean tomorrow or later because we are more of a procrastinating culture. The attitude is that if it cannot be done today then it can wait till tomorrow.

On the other hand, your potential clients come from a culture that is constantly concerned with time and punctuality. It is important to manage these differences and the client's time expectations. Do not promise something to be completed by a set date if you cannot deliver. This will build up expectations and then create disappointment.

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