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A Passport to American Legal Practice

January 23, 2024

LLM students in the courtyard at Penn Carey Law
LLM students in the courtyard at Penn Carey Law

About 20 percent of Penn Carey Law’s LLM class participate in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program after graduation.

Each year about 20 percent of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School LLM class elects to take part in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which is coordinated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

OPT students with an F-1 visa have the opportunity to work in the United States in their field of study for approximately one year, gaining invaluable legal experience and expanding their personal and professional networks. 

Maria Luiza Oliviera de Barros LLM’22

headshot of Maria Luiza Oliviera de Barros LLM'22 Maria Luiza Oliviera de Barros LLM’22Maria Luiza Oliviera de Barros LLM’22 came to the United States wondering whether she had what it takes to make the grade as an American lawyer.

One year later, she finds herself in a new position as an international associate on the M&A team of a top American law firm.

During a ten-month apprenticeship of sorts at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York, she learned about American culture, efficiency, governance, and advocacy through the auspices of the OPT program.

“I had an amazing experience at the firm. You learn and develop, personally and professionally. You work with incredible professionals, who you come to deeply admire. And, best of all, you have fun!” said Oliviera de Barros, an M&A lawyer back in Brazil.

Junko Tanka LLM’20

Befitting the international flavor of the program, Junko Tanka LLM’20 came from a more distant location: Japan.

headshot of Junko Tanka LLM'20 Junko Tanka LLM’20Like so many LLM applicants, Tanka entered the program with an established skill set. She was 40 years old, with 10 years of legal experience, including part-time work as a researcher for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where she assisted with negotiations between Japan, the World Trade Organization, and other countries.

“I was very curious about litigation in the United States,” Tanka said. “Especially I was curious about the discovery process because there is no discovery or deposition in Japan. At first, I was overwhelmed. There are a lot of talented young lawyers. But the (LLM) summer program was very useful.”

Upon completion of her degree, Tanka, in America with her husband and six-year-old daughter, took the next step and went to work for Smith Gambrell & Russell in Atlanta under the OPT. There she provided legal advice to Japanese companies operating in the United States as well as to companies who wished to establish U.S. subsidiaries.

Tanka said since there are few emigres in Japan, she had to learn the fundamentals of visa law for Japanese employees in America. Overall, she said it was quite the experience because SGR had 200 to 300 lawyers in Atlanta alone, whereas law firms are much smaller in Japan, where she is a partner with AOI Law Offices.

Paloma de Carlos Sebastian LLM’18 

Serendipity played a role in the passage of Paloma de Carlos Sebastian LLM’18 to Penn Carey Law.

headshot of Paloma de Carlos Sebastian LLM'18 Paloma de Carlos Sebastian LLM’18She had been practicing law in Madrid when her future husband, Miguel Cebrian W’19, decided he wanted to earn an MBA at Wharton. Faster than you can say matriculate he was accepted to the business school and she to Penn Carey Law.

The Wharton program takes two years, while the LLM takes one. So, applying for the OPT seemed like a good idea. In quick order, De Carlos became one of the eight to ten international lawyers hired that year by the New York office of Sullivan & Cromwell.

The preceding LLM program, she said, was fantastic preparation for her year in U.S. practice. De Carlos handled a vast array of matters, from corporate law to finance law, to capital markets, to project finance, tax, and litigation, emerging as a full-service attorney.

Working for Sullivan & Cromwell in New York allowed De Carlos to “get to know the U.S. legal market, which is different from the European market. And to work at one of the best law firms in the world – for me, it was perfect.”

She joined Sullivan & Cromwell’s London office after her husband received a job offer in the city. The couple is now back in Spain, where De Carlos is legal counsel for a private equity firm named Proa Capital.

Looking back on her LLM, De Carlos treasures the experience. “I made very, very good friends. We still talk and meet all over the world.”

Juan Carlos Velez LLM’20

Juan Carlos Velez LLM'20 Juan Carlos Velez LLM’20Juan Carlos Velez LLM’20 said that his one-and-a-half years at Proskauer Rose in New York and his LLM studies put him a step ahead of his colleagues in Peru, where he is a partner at Estudio Muñiz law firm. At Proskauer, he focused on capital market transactions, lending transactions, and M&A. He said he learned to think like an American lawyer.

“It was one of the most beneficial stages of my life,” Velez said. “I gained a lot of experience and knowledge not only of law but how to manage an American law firm, how to deal with transactions, and form relationships with clients and fellow attorneys from Proskauer and other law firms.”

Learn more about exciting opportunities through Penn Carey Law’s rigorous LLM program.