International at Home: Asian Americans as Buyers of Legal Services

By Shen, Jingjing | Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing, October 2009 | Go to article overview

International at Home: Asian Americans as Buyers of Legal Services


Shen, Jingjing, Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing


The U.S. population is becoming ever more diverse. If current trends continue, demographers say, the entire United States will have a nonwhite majority by the year 2050. There are few major fast-moving consumer goods companies that do not practice a subculture approach, and carefully segment and target diverse ethnicities. However, such an approach is still rare in legal marketing today.

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In order to successfully target diverse subcultures, such as Asian Americans, law firms have to understand each culture and its distinct consumer behavior. Asian Americans are an interesting target group for law firms for a number of reasons. The population continues to grow at a significantly faster rate than the general population or any of the other subcultures in this country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Asian Americans are also the most affluent group, with 28 percent of Asian American families having a household income of $100,000 or more. They are the ethnic group in the United States with the highest education, and already more than 1.1 million companies in the United States are Asian-owned.

A very high percentage, that is, approximately six in 10 Asian Americans, were born outside the United States. The U.S. Census 2000 Survey also found that the vast majority, 70.5 percent, of Asians Americans age 5 years and over speak their native Asian languages at home. The largest ethnic subgroup, Chinese Americans, is dominated by Confucian culture and collectivism: The group one belongs to, in particular family and relatives, is very important. Achieving in groups, assuming joint responsibility, has priority over individual self-fulfillment.

Despite their own distinct traditions and languages, Japanese Americans and Korean Americans share some Chinese-derived language characteristics, as well as religion, especially Buddhism and Taoism and a similar social and moral philosophy derived from Confucianism. Those who adhere to the Confucian culture and tradition are said to value certain qualities such as loyalty, reciprocal obligations ("guanxi") and honesty in dealing with others. Guanxi are reciprocal obligations and are about long-term personal relationships, about social interaction within a group where repeated favor exchanges ensure a measure of trust.

Distinct Behavior

When targeting Asian Americans for legal services, firms have to be aware of the distinct behavior in the different stages of the purchasing process. While the U.S. culture is typically seen as quick to sue and litigate in court, the opposite is true in the Asian-American subculture. Law firms need to be aware that Asian cultures generally have negative associations with buying legal services, as doing so is traditionally seen as hurting the esteemed principles of "harmony" and "ambiguity." This stems from the Confucian tradition that recommends that mankind should seek ways to compromise and harmonize conflicts rather than quarrel openly.

Using law firms in business matters also goes against the tradition of "xinyong"--that is, personal trust or a "gentleman's word. …

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International at Home: Asian Americans as Buyers of Legal Services
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