Graduate Students Bring Global Diversity to Law School
From left to right: Rafael Vietti da Fonseca of Brazil, Ana Teresa Pontes Madeira Afonso Lopes Martins of Portgual, Nezihe Boran Demir of Turkey, Fengjian Ao of China, and Khalid Al Kuwari of Qatar.
This year's class of 57 students pursuing a graduate degree in law from the University of Virginia come from 18 countries and from careers at law firms and corporations, and in public service in the United States and abroad.
UVA Law students seeking to earn a master’s in law (LL.M.) and doctor of juridical science (S.J.D.) degrees take classes alongside J.D. students, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in the study of U.S. law. For participants in the Graduate Studies Program, who typically obtained their undergraduate degree in law from a foreign country, studying for an advanced degree in the United States is a way to advance their careers.
UVA Law recently spoke with four LL.M. students from around the globe, as well as Khalid Al Kuwari of Qatar, who is pursuing an S.J.D. degree, the highest degree in law.
Home country: China
Education: LL.B., China University of Political Science and Law
Work experience: Before came to UVA Law, I had worked for six years as a legal consultant at the Shanghai office of Debevoise & Plimpton, a New York-headquartered law firm. My work there focused on corporate transactions, including mergers and acquisitions and foreign direct investment in China.
What led you to come to UVA Law? A lot of factors here — amazing reputation, great professors, park-like campus, etc. The most important one is that UVA Law maintains a small and highly selective LL.M. program, which I believe will enable me to be fully integrated into the academic community and have a better learning experience.
What do you hope to do with your degree from UVA Law? Upon completion of my LL.M., I intend to return to work at the Shanghai office of Debevoise & Plimpton. With the knowledge and skills acquired at UVA Law, I hope I can provide even better legal service to our clients.
What are your impressions of the United States so far? People are very kind and always ready to help you. In addition, the society places great emphasis on law. I was told by many people here that they believe respecting and obeying law is an important responsibility.
What have you liked best about UVA Law so far? I love the positive academic atmosphere at UVA Law. The students are incredibly smart and hardworking. The professors are amazingly talented and thoughtful, and they care deeply about their students.
Nezihe Boran Demir
Home country: Republic of Turkey
Education: LL.B., Bilkent University
Work experience: After concluding several internships with government authorities and offices between 2005 and 2006, I started to work at Birsel Law Offices, a leading law firm in Turkey, for five years. During this time, I assisted various foreign clients on international loan transactions, mergers and acquisitions, corporate law, energy law and project finance. After five years of work experience in a law firm, between 2011 and 2012, I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers as an assistant manager and mainly focused on mergers and acquisitions, corporate law and project finance.
What do you hope to do with your degree from UVA Law? My immediate goal will be to gain experience in the United States, which offers broad exposure to the world’s largest law firms. This will provide me the opportunity to hone my skills as an international legal consultant and allow me to gain the global legal expertise necessary to advise the world's leading corporations as they continue to expand their international operations in emerging economies. After gaining some experience, I will return home to Turkey, transferring the academic and professional experience gained in the United States.
What are your impressions of the United States so far? Living in the United States for the first time, I could definitely say that I am amazed by the welcoming and friendly people, the diversity of the culture and breath-taking nature.
What led you to come to UVA Law? And what have you liked best so far? I think that the University of Virginia School of Law is the ideal choice for me to pursue my LL.M. and begin my international legal studies. I believe that the legal education will provide the legal perspective to create the solutions and structures on legal issues during projects with future international clients, taking advantage of the renowned faculty and my classmates’ broad experience. I look forward to joining the highly esteemed community of alumni of UVA Law.
Rafael Vietti da Fonseca
Home country: Brazil
Education: LL.B. from Universidade Presbiteria Mackenzie; accounting program from Fundação Getúlio Vargas; postgraduate in corporate finance and investment banking from Fundação Instituto de Administração
Work experience: I have been working at Itaú Unibanco (among the top-10 largest banks in the world) for approximately seven years, and have fulfilled important roles in strategic areas, such as mergers and acquisitions, antitrust and corporate teams. Because of this background, I have built up a solid knowledge and expertise in both business and legal matters. When I decided to move to Charlottesville, I was the in-house counsel responsible for the corporate, regulatory and governance matters of our entities outside Brazil (including U.S.-based entities, such as Itau USA Asset Management and Itau BBA USA Securities). I have run a staff of lawyers and coordinated the legal analysis of the relevant international projects of the bank, including the attendance of meetings with regulators in Brazil and abroad.
What led you to come to UVA Law? I analyzed UVA Law’s curriculum and faculty carefully and compared such information with other top universities. I reached the conclusion that UVA Law was the best place to be and would provide me with the fundamentals and experience that I need for my objectives. Also, I have discussed the UVA LL.M. program with Brazilian alumni (including my boss, the general counsel of my bank) and they ratified my understanding regarding the quality and orientation of the classes and materials available at UVA Law.
What do you hope to do with your degree from UVA Law? At UVA Law I expect to improve my capability of structuring innovative legal solutions to real-life issues. It will certainly assist me to enhance my legal skills and to develop a comparative analysis of the international market practices, which will lead me to take advantage of the growing professional opportunities arising from the development of the Brazilian financial and capital markets. After completing the LL.M. program at UVA Law, I am sure that I will be in a much better position to negotiate international transactions with qualified lawyers all around the globe.
What are your impressions of the United States so far? Charlottesville is an amazing city. It is beautiful, clean, and provides us with all we need. It feels like home here.
What have you liked best about UVA Law so far? The quality of the faculty and, consequently, the classes. It impressed everybody I know. Taking classes with Dean Paul Mahoney and Professor George Geis, e.g., is an enriching and extraordinary experience.
Ana Teresa Pontes Madeira Afonso Lopes Martins
Home Country: Portugal
Education: LL.B. (Licenciatura em Direito), Universidade Nova de Lisboa; postgraduate course in land use, planning, zoning and environment, CEDOUA - Universidade de Coimbra
Work Experience: I joined Uría Menéndez (Lisbon and Madrid Offices) — a leading Iberian law firm — right after law school, where I had the chance to participate in countless multi-jurisdictional complex transactions and to represent and assist several high-profile clients. I focused my practice in real estate, corporate, land use and environmental law. During this time, I also worked in secondment [in a temporary assignment] at a major real estate development company, where I was able to appreciate the dichotomy between the work of a lawyer in a law firm and that of an in-house counsel.
What led you to come to UVA Law? I realized early on the importance of understanding the main differences between the Portuguese legal system and those of our foreign clients and counterparties. The ability to study and grasp the fundamental disparities between the relevant legal frameworks is essential to provide the best response to our clients' needs and concerns and to create the best structure for a transaction. So, after deciding I wanted to apply to an LL.M. program in the USA, the reputation of UVA Law School and its diversified courses made it my first option. Also, Charlottesville is a fantastic place!
What do you hope to do with your degree from UVA Law? In the long term, I would like to return to Portugal and to continue my career in a law firm there.
What are your impressions of the United States so far? I have been coming to the USA ever since I was a kid and I just love it! One of the things that really strikes me every time I am here is how open and friendly everybody is.
What have you liked best about UVA Law so far? Everything! From the people and the fantastic environment, to the library and the gardens in the University, I am really enjoying my experience so far!
Khalid Al Kuwari
Home Country: Qatar
Education: LL.B., Durham University in the U.K.; LL.M., Georgetown Law Center; visiting researcher, Harvard Law School
Work Experience: I worked as a diplomat in different posts in the U.N. and Europe, representing my country in variety of issues, one of which was drafting international conventions. In 2006, I started working for a nonprofit organization dealing with the promotion of education, science and community development. I am currently acting as the assistant general counsel of the organization.
What do you hope to do with your degree from UVA Law? Once I finish my studies at UVA, I will go back and work for my employer and teach in the national university as well as the new law school that we are establishing from the ground up, as an adjunct professor.
What are your impressions of the United States so far? The only thing that I can say is that I am trying to live what is called the "American dream" and to teach my kids about it.
What have you liked best about UVA Law so far? What is not to like? Although I have only been here a couple of weeks, it feels like home. The whole place feels cozy wherever you go, be it the university or the apartment building or the grocery store — everybody is smiling and helpful.