Colombian attorney uses LL.M. to jumpstart U.S. law career

When Paola Ramos moved to the United States, she tried desperately to get her law career back on track.

It wasn’t until she found McGeorge School of Law that she felt welcomed with open arms.

It hadn’t been easy, being in a different country, far from her native Colombia, and also having to deal with a different language.

Being a lawyer had been Ramos’ dream since she was an adolescent. She had been a strong student, finishing high school with one of the highest scores and then earning her law degree in 2009 from the University of Santiago with one of the best average grades.

In South America, she had also trained in conciliation and alternative dispute resolution, so she could act as a certified mediator. She interned at the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute, worked in non-law public positions, and then served as an attorney at the Valle del Cauca Department of Health Care Services.

In the U.S., she tried to enroll in a community college to pursue a legal assisting program, but was overqualified.

“I learned from a lawyer friend of mine that I should check on LL.M. programs in the area of Sacramento, CA, since I am already an attorney,” Ramos said. “I did my exhaustive research, finding out that McGeorge School of Law was exactly what I was looking for, and this is: High quality of education and a welcoming environment.”

She expressed her desire to practice law again, and the school introduced her to a Colombian student completing the program, who helped her to overcome her fears.

“My experience so far has been one of the most exciting experiences in my life,” Ramos said.

Of course, there have been challenges.

“You have to understand legal concepts in English, which is not your first language, so you may need to re-read, check on new legal terminology, pronunciation, spelling and spend a little bit of extra-time to do your assessments,” Ramos said.

She is also working full-time as a bilingual legal assistant with WEAVE, Inc., a non-profit organization, which adds an additional challenge on top of the demanding legal studies.

“The rewarding experience is definitely to be part of a family called McGeorge, in which they have thought about events, conferences and all kinds of activities for you to be engaged, have fun, do networking, and meet with other professionals in the area,” she said. “And last, but not least, it has been so exciting to meet attorneys and law students in the LL.M. program and share experiences and thoughts about law and politics in their countries and see how beautiful and nurturing is diversity.”

Her experience at McGeorge has been so positive that now she is considering enrolling in a Master of Public Administration program. She also plans to take the bar exam and pursue a legal career.

Her advice to prospective LL.M. students is to not let fear hold them back.

“Do not think that because English is not your first language you will not succeed,” she said. “Be always positive and know that an LL.M. is not only a great opportunity for you to learn more about common law and American legal system. It is also an amazing occasion for you to learn and improve your English skills, meet interesting professionals around the world that can give you a better perspective of their cultures, legal systems, experiences, and that allow you to get out of that closed universe of the law in X or Y country and have a new vision of law in a global context with holistic approach.”

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