Costa Rican judge eager to return to law career in U.S.

Monica Medrano-Vargas feels like she was born for a career in law.

After moving from Costa Rica to the United States five years ago, and studying in a few different areas, she’s now earning a Master of Laws at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. This degree is bringing back hope that she will be able to return to work in law.

Medrano-Vargas earned her law degree with honors in 2007 after five years of education in Costa Rica. She worked two years for the Costa Rican government as a labor attorney for the Agriculture Development Institute and legal advisor for the Civil Aviation Department. She was conducting disciplinary and administrative procedures, and though the work was interesting, she was unhappy and bored.

So, she pursued criminal law, which she had always had a passion for. She became a criminal judge for the Costa Rican Supreme Court of Justice, where she worked for nearly five years. She also was a professor of criminal law at the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica.

Upon moving to the U.S. with her husband and two sons, she sought to improve her English. She also earned her real estate license in order to quickly find a job. Her family then moved to Washington, where she studied in an ESL program.

Job opportunities for her husband then took the family to Texas, and she earned a certificate in mediation and dispute resolutions at Collin College.

Currently, she is working on her LL.M. at SMU Dedman Law School and expects to complete it in May 2018. She’ll take the bar exam in July. 

“Since my family and I are established in Dallas, my professional goals are to practice in Dallas, in the corporate field,” Medrano-Vargas said. “I really believe that you have cycles in your life and my cycle in the criminal field is completed. So, now life is giving me a new opportunity to start over, in a new country, I decided to try a different field but equally competitive.”

She’s been impressed with the program at SMU Dedman School of Law.

“They give us all the accommodations that we need to be able to accomplish with the program no matter how hard is study law in a language that is not yours.” Medrano-Vargas said.

And that’s perhaps the biggest challenge — studying law in a non-native language.

Professors and classmates support each other, and they’ve learned about each others’ customs and can better respect their cultural differences, she said.

As for advice to prospective students?

“Do it! In spite that [it] is very challenging, this [is] one of the best experience and opportunity that you can get in your career and in your life,” she said. 


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