Extending comparative law's global reach
By MATT WALKER
When Veronica Musa (LLM 11) earned her law degree and master’s degree in her native country of Argentina, she thought she was finished with higher education — and glad of it. As a human rights activist, she said academia was a means to an end; it wasn’t what she was passionate about.
But after she came to the United States and began working at Florida Institutional Legal Services advocating on behalf of immigrant detainees in the state of Florida, she began to see the benefits of having a stronger academic and theoretical background to be more effective in her job.
After seeing how different the U.S. legal system is from her native country’s, and being inspired by a University of Florida Levin College of Law intern who worked with her at legal services, Musa decided to return to school. She completed her LL.M in Comparative Law in May.
“The Comparative Law Program was designed to attract foreign lawyers to come to the University of Florida to learn about the United States and the United States’ legal system,” said UF Law Professor Pedro Malavet, who was named associate director of the UF Law LL.M in Comparative Law Program this year.
“I think I gained a lot of perspective,” Musa said, “especially from the other attorneys from abroad. That’s really the feature that I think is most interesting.”
Malavet says those international connections make a difference.
“Our students are in the same classroom with students who already have their law degree from another country,” he said. “Those are relationships that you can develop. You can meet lawyers from all over the world here during your law studies.”
In May, after 15 years of teaching comparative law at UF Law, Malavet will assume
his duties as the Comparative Law Program’s new director.
Malavet said his first order of business as director will be to expand the comparative Law Program and use UF Law’s partners around the world to help spread the word about its increased size. The program was originally intended to be small, only admitting 15 to 20 students per year, but based on its success over the years, Malavet said it is time to let it grow. The faculty will have to officially approve the expanded program and its details since its original approval was based
on a lower student limit. Once the proper approvals are secured, Malavet will be able to promote the program more aggressively.
The reasons students are attracted to the program vary because the LL.M can be applied in a wide variety of ways, Malavet said.
Some students plan to take a bar exam in the United States after graduating (some
states allow foreign lawyers with an LL.M from an American law school to sit for the
bar), while others want to serve as a liaison in legal affairs between the U.S. and their home countries. Still others are legal reformers — academics, judges or prosecutors — who are comparing the U.S. legal system to their home country’s for the purposes of legal reform.
For Musa, the comparative angle is something she said will serve her well when she
returns to Argentina.
“The whole system is completely different,” Musa said. She has been able to see benefits to the U.S. legal system — the transparency of the judicial process and
administration of justice — and she also appreciates aspects of the Argentine system that she didn’t realize before. For example, her country’s incarceration rate is much lower than the United States’.
Musa said when she returns to Argentina her LL.M will also benefit her as she looks
for employment. “I will be more marketable, more competitive with a foreign degree, especially from a university with a good reputation.”
Malavet also points out that the students who participate in the program aren’t the only ones who can benefit from it.
“You need an expert in foreign law sometimes and how are you going to find one?
How are you going to know that they know what they’re talking about?” Malavet asked. “If you met them as students here, you know that they were good enough to get into law school, that they had the credentials. I think that gives an opportunity for our law students and law graduates to have connections abroad
and develop that kind of connection.”
Malavet will be assuming director duties from Professor David Hudson, who will
return to his full-time faculty position after serving as the director of the comparative Law Program since 1999.
“David Hudson has served as director of the program for three-fourths of its life,
providing the leadership that has delivered a high-quality educational experience to
hundreds of students,” said UF Law Dean Robert Jerry. “The affinity of the program’s graduates for not only the college but also Professor Hudson personally is a testament to the tremendous personal attention and encouragement he gives the students, his professionalism, and his support for the graduates throughout their careers.”