UVA Law Becomes Home Away from Home for International Graduate Students

Top row: Brecht Debruyn, Luiz Rafael de Vargas Maluf and Carlos Ibarguengoitia Zugarramurdi. Bottom row: Julia Katharina Rupp, Satoko Miyashima and Maria Angela Guerra Sanchez.

Foreign students in the UVA Law Graduate Studies Program said the relatively small number of LL.M. and S.J.D. students accepted, combined with a learning environment that is integrated with J.D. students helped persuade them to come to UVA Law. Pictured are members of the Class of 2016: Julia Katharina Rupp, Brecht Debruyn, Satoko Miyashima, Luiz Rafael de Vargas Maluf, Maria Angela Guerra Sanchez and Carlos Ibarguengoitia Zugarramurdi.

September 14, 2015

Joining the Class of 2016 at the University of Virginia School of Law this fall are 57 students from 25 countries who are pursuing advanced law degrees in the Graduate Studies Program.

The students come from law firms, corporate and entrepreneurial settings, and public service to expand their understanding of U.S. law. Participants can earn either a master's in law (LL.M.) or doctor of juridical science (S.J.D.), and take classes alongside J.D. students. (Eight new students are pursuing the S.J.D. in residence this year.) Graduate students typically have obtained their undergraduate degree in law from a foreign country.

The Law School recently spoke with six international LL.M. students about their careers and why they chose UVA Law.

Brecht Debruyn

Home country:Belgium

Education:LL.B., LL.M., University of Antwerp

Work experience:Before joining the LL.M. program, I worked for two years as an attorney at the largest independent law firm in Belgium (Eubelius). As a member of the corporate practice, I was involved daily in corporate advisory projects, corporate transactions and corporate governance matters.

What led you to come to UVA Law?Apart from its prestige as a top 10 U.S. law school, UVA Law offers a highly recognized LL.M. program with great opportunities for foreign lawyers, especially for those having a corporate or business law background. For example, LL.M. candidates are eligible to pursue several courses from the unique and acclaimed Law & Business program. Besides the foregoing, the impressive academic credentials of its professors; the relatively small group of LL.M.s, which leads to a smooth integration with the J.D. students; the enthusiastic testimonials from Belgian alumni and the idyllic scenery of Charlottesville are few of the many elements that make the LL.M. program of UVA Law really stand out.

What do you hope to do with your UVA law degree?I hope a better understanding of U.S. Law would inspire me to stimulate creative solutions for some of the complex legal issues I encountered and further will encounter as an attorney. In the world of corporate law, wherein the omnipresence of Anglo-American mechanisms is undeniable, I hope to obtain the extra credibility to further deepen and develop my legal career regardless of any geographical boundaries.

What are your initial impressions of the United States?I was impressed by, amongst others, the central role entrepreneurship plays in the U.S. society, by the — for Europeans — unprecedented costumer service, by the vastness of the landscape, by the beautiful and diverse scenery, and by the friendly and open American people.

What have you liked best about UVA Law so far?I really appreciate the academic environment UVA Law offers. I was for example surprised by the accessibility and the availability of the law professors and their willingness to further discuss issues that came up in class. Besides that, I really like the atmosphere of camaraderie between the law students. Although all students are very eager to excel in their legal education, I didn't really notice a very competitive environment amongst the law students. I believe this is something unique.

Luiz Rafael de Vargas Maluf

Home country: Brazil

Education: LL.B., Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie; Postgraduate, corporate law, Fundação Getulio Vargas/GVLaw — Sao Paulo

Work experience: I worked for more than five years for Pinheiro Neto Advogados (one of the biggest and top-five most-renowned law firms in Brazil and Latin America), fulfilling important roles in more than 10 international IPOs/follow-ons and approximately 40 fixed income transactions. During this time, I have built up a professional background with solid knowledge and expertise in this area. So, I decided to accept, in 2013, an invitation from Bocater Advogados (a renowned firm very focused in M&As and capital markets transactions, founded by former chairman and former commissioners of the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission — CVM) to be a new associate and to help develop the public offerings area of the firm. When I decided to go further in my plans to pursue the LL.M. degree, I was working as a senior associate, making efforts to bring new clients to the firm, acting in relevant CVM public hearings for the issuance of new rules, publishing articles in specialized magazines and books, and participating in seminars as a lecturer. Then, I asked the partners for a leave of absence, and so I have been fully supported by them in my decision to spend some time abroad.

What led you to come to UVA Law? I had been considering an LL.M degree since 2008 to enrich my professional life with an international academic experience, but I was waiting for the best moment in my life for it. So, in 2014, I focused on all top-10 universities, carefully compared the curriculum with the others, and concluded that UVA Law was the perfect choice for me since the beginning, not only for being a very renowned law school in the U.S. and abroad, but also because UVA Law has a smaller program that allows you to better integrate in the academic community with the J.D.s, and would be able to provide me all the basis and needed wisdom especially in my practice area to achieve my professional goals. Also, having decided on UVA Law instead of other LL.M programs located in the biggest cities in the U.S., I realized that I could focus on my studies and really have the academic experience on-Grounds the whole time. In addition, I can say that, when I personally met Dean Polly Lawson in Sao Paulo at the end of 2014, my decision for UVA Law had been made! She carried me through all the application process, gave me all the necessary information, and introduced me to other Brazilian alumni, who confirmed all my perceptions about the program and how my life experience in Charlottesville would be.

What do you hope to do with your UVA law degree? Immediately upon my graduation, I intend to work for a U.S. law firm, as a foreign associate, in order to put my knowledge into practice and to consolidate the absorbed learnings from UVA Law. Working for an international law firm would definitely allow me to better understand the ways American lawyers think while solving the clients' problems, as well as the applied rules in capital markets transactions in the U.S. and comparing them with the Brazilian rules, so that it could help me while looking for ideas and solutions to improve the Brazilian capital markets. I believe that this knowledge obtained from UVA Law together with the experience in a U.S. law firm will enhance my legal skills and not only put me in a better position to assist clients and negotiate with third-parties, but also to take advantage of professional opportunities with potential clients.

What are your initial impressions of the United States? I came to the U.S. two other times in my life — in 1995 (when I visited Florida) and 2009 (New York) — but as a tourist. I have always admired how the Americans have such fast and objective solutions for issues that sometimes in my country, unfortunately, are so complicated, not to mention bureaucratic. Now I am having the real experience of living in the U.S., and Charlottesville is a very charming and beautiful city that gives you an excellent quality of life and provides you with whatever you want. Since I lived most of my life in Sao Paulo (a Brazilian city as huge and vivacious as New York), Charlottesville gives me a better and calm place to focus in my studies.

What have you liked best about UVA Law so far? UVA as a whole has an incredible structure, many facilities for the students and I have to thank all the Peer Advisors who have been helping me to better integrate into the community and with the J.D.s. Also, since not only I but also other students came with their spouses, I can definitely say that UVA Law has been taking care of us while promoting events involving the families, which is awesome. And, finally, I am very impressed with the high quality of the classes with Professors Kevin Kordana and Andrew Vollmer (respectively in Corporations and Securities Regulation), e.g., which have been very challenging and stimulating.

Satoko Miyashima

Home country:Japan

Education: J.D., University of Tokyo, Graduate Schools for Law and Politics; LL.B., University of Tokyo

Work experience: I worked for five and a half years as an associate at Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, one of the leading law firms in Japan. My practice focused mainly on structured finance, real estate investment trusts and private equity.

What led you to come to UVA Law? UVA Law offers a lot of courses concerning business organization and finance, which are strongly related to my current practice. In addition, the number of members in the LL.M. program at UVA Law is quite small in comparison to other law schools. This will help me proactively involve myself in the UVA community and build close relationships with my classmates.

What do you hope to do with your UVA law degree? After taking the New York bar exam, I aim to return to Japan and resume my practice as a business lawyer at my current law firm. I am convinced that with exposure to an international academic environment at UVA Law, I will be on my way to becoming a top-level lawyer who can lead cutting-edge financial transactions.

What are your initial impressions of the United States? Diversity. American people seem to understand cultural diversity and accept different cultures. As to Charlottesville, I love the calm and peaceful atmosphere here. People are very friendly and kind to UVA students.

What have you liked best about UVA Law so far? Everything is impressive. The faculty members, the courses offered, diverse classmates and the beautiful UVA campus. It's especially great for me to have many opportunities to interact with J.D. students, who are native English speakers. We take the same classes and study together. I believe we have positive influences on each other.

Julia Katharina Rupp

Home country:Germany

Education:I studied law at the University of Bayreuth. Since the University of Bayreuth offered a special business program for law students, I was able to complete supplementary education in business management and economics for lawyers. The program is similar to a minor in business.

Work experience: After studying law, I had to do my legal clerkship/legal training in order to become a fully qualified lawyer in Germany. I worked for a judge, a state attorney, a municipality, and a law firm in the South of Germany as well as a law firm in Brussels. For the last two years, I worked as a research/teaching assistant at the University of Bayreuth. During that time, I was also a Ph.D. student and worked on my doctoral thesis.

What led you to come to UVA Law? UVA Law´s excellent academic reputation and the Law & Business Program originally caught my interest. Since, in comparison to other schools, UVA Law has a very small LL.M. class and LL.M. students can participate in the regular courses attended by J.D. students, coming to Charlottesville was my first choice.

What do you hope to do with your UVA law degree? I will take the New York Bar Exam next summer. Afterwards I would like to work for either an international law firm or the legal department of an internationally operating corporation in the U.S. or Europe, preferably in corporate law. I guess I have to wait and see what will happen.

What are your initial impressions of the United States? After "surviving" air conditioning and the shock of people running around in sports clothes everywhere — just kidding — I enjoy how open-minded, friendly, outgoing, and engaging people are. Wherever I go, I get the opportunity to chat with new and interesting people. All in all, I immediately felt at home.

What have you liked best about UVA Law so far? Wow, that's a tough question. The list is very, very, very long. In short: I like best the people I meet — the LL.M. students, the 1Ls, 2Ls and 3Ls, faculty and staff. Furthermore, I think the classes are amazing. I like the American method of learning and teaching. And I especially enjoy all the extracurricular activities UVA Law offers. If you see me running around, it is because I squeezed in another student activity group meeting or a softball practice/game. I enjoy myself enormously every day and I am looking forward to the next months at UVA.

Maria Angela Guerra Sanchez

Home country:Mexico

Education: LL.B., Facultad Libre de Derecho Monterrey

Work experience: Most recently, partner and president of Brummell Menswear Boutique and legal manager for D ARE2.

What led you to come to UVA Law? I feel like there are so many opportunities at the University of Virginia. It's an excellent school ranked in the top 10. Basically what attracted me most was that students here are free to concentrate their studies in one or more specialized areas of law. On the other hand, I really liked that UVA has small student-groups because it enables the professors to give a more individual focus to their students.

What do you hope to do with your UVA law degree? Go back to Mexico to work in a top corporate law firm.

What are your initial impressions of the United States? I've had a home in the USA since I was very young, so I am used to the USA culture and people.

What have you liked best about UVA Law so far? So far I've found that UVA's staff and students are very friendly and communicative. It's extremely notable that everyone is smiling and saying "hi," wishing you to have a good day and asking if you need help (especially in the copy center, book store or library).

Carlos Ibarguengoitia Zugarramurdi

Home country: Mexico

Education: LL.B. (Licenciatura en Derecho), Universidad Iberoamericana

Work experience: Before coming to Charlottesville, I used to work for more than five years in one of Mexico's most prestigious law firms Creel, García-Cuéllar, Aiza y Enríquez. I was part of the Banking and Finance practice group, in which I had the opportunity to participate in many domestic and international transactions (including those that were first of its kind).

What led you to come to UVA Law? There were many reasons for me to come to UVA, including without limitation: its academic excellence; its flexibility to design a high-quality multi-disciplinary program; the fact that UVA seeks to create a true community (with all that that implies); and why not, its location.

What do you hope to do with your UVA law degree? I have no doubts that the L.L.M. experience at UVA would definitely enrich my understanding of U.S. law and complement my previous training, which ultimately I'm sure will allow me to achieve greater career success.

What are your initial impressions of the United States?Although in the past I came many times to the United States as a tourist, the experience of being part of the community has been wonderful — so much to learn and enjoy.

What have you liked best about UVA Law so far?The possibility to participate in an endless number of academic and non-academic activities.


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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