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Penn Law launches innovative program in Latin American & Latino Studies

August 25, 2014

In recognition of the mounting importance of Latin America as both a rapidly growing global legal market and the hub of much U.S. immigration debate, the University of Pennsylvania Law School has established the innovative Certificate of Study in Latin American and Latino Studies. 

In collaboration with Penn’s Latin American and Latino Studies Program, the new certificate will enable Penn Law students to enrich their legal educations by gaining knowledge of the social, cultural, and political issues facing Latinos and Latin Americans, while also affording opportunities for students to develop greater fluency in the legal landscapes, history, and languages of the region. Students will be able to participate in the program at the start of the 2014-15 academic year. 

“Today’s law graduates face challenges that cross boundaries and borders, whether they work on issues of immigration, global transactional law, or the environment,” said Wendell Pritchett, Interim Dean of Penn Law. “The new Certificate in Latin American and Latino Studies is emblematic of our interdisciplinary approach to educating the next generation of lawyers, and our ongoing commitment to international legal training.” 

“This new certificate will add to the knowledge students gain at the Law School and allow them to broaden their understanding of important legal issues by examining Latin America through a social scientific lens,” noted Professor Emilio A. Parrado, Director of Penn’s Latin American and Latino Studies Program and Chair of the Sociology department.  

Recent debates regarding Arizona’s controversial immigration legislation, the DREAM Act, and the record numbers of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States from Central America have all underscored the fact that many of the most pressing legal issues of today require not just knowledge of the law, but an understanding of the history, language, and culture of Latinos and Latin Americans, as well. 

In addition, the practice of law has become increasingly global. For example, 26 U.S. firms have offices in Latin America, and together those offices employ nearly 1,000 lawyers, according to ALM. 

“More and more, students are seeking the kind of knowledge and cultural understanding this certificate program provides,” said Jennifer Leonard L’04, Director of the Center on Professionalism at Penn Law. “Further, employers are telling us that they are not just looking for sharp legal minds, they seek associates that are prepared to succeed in the growing international marketplace.” 

To earn the certificate, students must complete five courses in the area of Latin American and Latino Studies. Two of these courses are taken at Penn Law, and the remaining three courses are taken in Penn’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Course offerings within the Law School include Public International Law, International Business Transactions, Refugee Law, and International Trade Regulation. Non-law courses cover topics ranging from Latin American Political Economy to International Migration. 

Students must also demonstrate proficiency in Spanish, French, Portuguese, or a less commonly taught language such as Yucatec Maya, Quechua, or Haitian Creole. 

The new certificate builds upon Penn Law’s growing engagement in Latin America. For example, the 2014-15 Global Research Seminar, “Rising Powers: Power Shifts in International Law and Global Governance,” will bring 14 students and a faculty member to Brazil to conduct field research and meet with scholars and practitioners there. In January 2015 the Law School will offer students its third annual immersion bootcamp, “Spanish Language for the Legal Professional.” 

For over a decade Penn Law’s Transnational Legal Clinic and the student-run Latino Law Students Association (LALSA) have both been engaged in pro bono work within Latino immigrant communities in Philadelphia, as well as overseas fieldwork in Mexico, Ecuador, Haiti, Cuba, and Costa Rica. And in recent years the Law School has become a magnet for legal scholars from the region, including several resident visiting scholars and researchers, and 20 students in this year’s LLM class. 

With the new certificate program, Penn Law continues its unparalleled commitment to cross-disciplinary education. The Certificate in Latin American and Latino Studies is the newest of 35 joint degree and certificate programs currently offered by Penn Law, a national leader in interdisciplinary legal education.