First, let’s define “Latino”
To get a sense of the audience we are talking about, let’s first clarify what it means to be Latino in the U.S.. For the purposes of sharing demographic information about the U.S. specifically, I think would be helpful to use the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) definition which defines Hispanic or Latino “as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” While Latino may sometimes refer to anyone from a Latin American country, we are really talking about people from Spanish speaking countries, unlike Brazil for example. So what are the numbers?
It is estimated that there are 58 million (approx. 19.5% of the population) Latinos in the U.S. In fact Latinos are the largest single minority in the United States. Mexico is the only other country that has a Latino population larger than the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos are anticipated to be 28.5% of the population by 2060. Additionally, Latino owned businesses are growing rapidly along side of the population and the U.S. is seeing significant uptick there as well.
According to Stanford Business School’s 2018 State of Latino Entrepreneurship report, Latino enterprises outpaced the growth rates of “all other groups, including white, Asian and black-owned firms.” According to a separate study conducted at Harvard, in 2017, there were approximately 4.37 million Latino businesses generating approximately $700 billion in sales.
According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, this diverse group of people spent approximately $1.4 trillion in 2017 and it is anticipated that their spending will rise to $1.8 trillion annually by 2021. To put the growth in perspective, Latinos were spending about $495 billion in 2000. That is an approximate increase of 183% in the last two decades alone with even more growth projected well into the future. With more disposable income on hand, Latinos will be looking to align themselves with professionals to help them manage wealth, protect assets and resolve business disputes with more frequency.
Of the 58 million Latino’s in the U.S. it is estimated that approximately 39 million of them speak Spanish at home. While most of those same people also speak English, many Latinos prefer to conduct business or handle other important matters while speaking Spanish. Businesses that accomodate this desire will stand above others and gain competitive advantage by acquiring this audience as clients.
As this population and their spending power continues to grow so will their needs for legal services. Law firms prepared to service this audience stand to also grow along side of them. It’s important not to over generalize the needs of Latinos. Just like the general U.S. population, their needs will be varied and come in at all levels of complexity. Also important to note, is that many U.S. Latinos have little connections to their country of origin and would be best served like any other client walking into your office. Assuming particular needs because a person is Latino could obviously backfire, so take time to understand each and every prospect. With that out of the way, there are needs that are trending significantly that can present more immediate opportunities for law firms. So what are the top legal issues that this population currently needs assistance with? Here top five that we are seeing today:
This one is a hot political issue and is currently getting a lot of headlines in the media. I have heard from several imigration attorneys that they are barely able to keep up with the number of deportation cases that are coming into their offices. One firm that I know in NY, is receiving calls from all over the country and are doing their best to build strategic relationships with firms in other states, but are still having to turn away significant business.
However, for those that practice in this area already, you know that it’s not all deportation and asylum cases. There are plenty of naturalized and native born Latinos who wish to sponsor family members as well as employers needing help for cross border initiatives involving foreign employees. Specific industries like tech (Guadalajara is billed as the Silicon Valley of Mexico) and manufacturing are prime for employer based immigration assistance. The point is, this type of practice has an abundance of demand and not enough supply.
Estate planning for Latinos that are U.S. citizens is pretty straight forward. However, there are some differences for Latinos that are not U.S. citizens or for Latino citizens who have spouses that are not U.S. citizens. Firms who understand the unique estate tax differences between citizens and non-citizens will be the most capable of serving Latinos with assets and family members abroad. Developing understanding of estate plans that include tangible assets in other countries will be another way to improve your chances of servicing this market more effectively. This also gives you a competitive advantage over other estate planning firms. Finally, qualified domestic trusts (QDOTs) are yet another vehicle that you may find Latinos wanting to take advantage of.
Under threat of detention and deportation, Latino immigrants with American born children can also benefit from proactively planning and creating informal guardianships and power of attorney documents. Also related to immigrant Latinos, I found this interesting read on “deportation trusts.” While I am not familiar with that particular instrument, it is that sort of direct attempt at serving this audience that will help you grow your estate planning practice alongside of this population.
Family for Latinos is pretty straight forward. There are times where immigration and family law matters may intersect, such as when an undocumented spouse is the victim of domestic violence. Knowing that there is a potential path to lawful permanent residency (LPR) via the Violence Against Women Act (you do not have to be a woman to ask to become a lawful permanent resident under VAWA) is obvisouly helpful to those clients that may come to you for assistance. Minors in foster care or under guardianship may also have a path to citizenship.
There are several small operational changes a family law firm can make to better serve this community. For example, translating helpful content on your website into Spanish. Also, hiring at least one person who can act as a translator for non Spanish speaking staff. Of course, taking up Spanish yourself will give you a leg up against your competitors.
Criminal Traffic Practice
For recent immigrants, there are a number of initiatives in various states that allow an immigrant to receive a driver’s license. A recent effort in New York, co-led by immigration attorney and community activist Luis Gomez Alfaro, was passed in June of this year. More people on the road, means more opportunities for police to issue traffic citations. As more states adopt initiatives like this, we are more likely to see an increase in work for attorneys who provide traffic ticket defense services.
As indicated earlier, Latino owned enterprises are the fastest growing segment of small business in the U.S. Why? Because when you can’t find a job and you need to feed your family, you get to work and create your own job. In fact 18% of all small business owners are foreign born. Obviously these small businesses will need the same help as any other small business you may be servicing. However, you can differentiate yourselves by providing services that simply help Latino small businesses “navigate” the system. The most successful small businesses are the ones that acquire all appropriate licensing, have access to funding, and can tap into other professional relationships (e.g., accountants, bankers, brokers, etc.) that may not be part of a Latino business owners existing network. Taking the time to build a referral network that can support your Latino clients specifically will be extremely valuable to your clients and deliver substantial business to your firm.
As with any business, growing a firm requires foresight, effort and timing. When it comes to reaching the Latino market for future competitive advantage, the timing is now. A serious review of the data I have shared above and continued research into the Latino population should provide the foresight needed for continued growth. Firms that invest now and start building reputations among a Latino audience stand to reap great rewards.
For more information on how to reach the Latino audience for specific questions about this post, feel free to leave comments below or ask me on Twitter @allen_rodriguez.