The legal markets of Latin America are diverse and dynamic, with more than 200 law firms operating 60 offices across the region and employing many thousands of staff. The market tends to be dominated by local law firms but some international firms operate in countries such as Brazil and Mexico. The entry points to practicing law in Latin America after an LL.M. are varied.
See below for the routes to practicing law in some of Latin America’s most prominent legal markets.
Becoming a lawyer in Argentina
Carlos Muniz, senior lecturer in civil law at Pontifical Catholic University Argentina, in Buenos Aires, says that, in order to become a lawyer in the country, you would typically need to enrol in a law school and obtain a degree. Once you have obtained a law degree, the only step required is the enrolment in the local professional association (Colegio de Abogados), the equivalent of a Bar, but no further examinations or validation of credentials are required to practice law in the country.
He says that an LL.M. is neither mandatory nor essential in order to practice law in Argentina. “They are more valuable for an academic or judiciary career,” he says. “However, specialized law firms in Argentina’s biggest cities might consider it an interesting asset, provided that the postgraduate program provides a high degree of competence in a specific branch of law.”
Muniz adds that practising law in Argentina requires talent, effort and determination: “Since the access to practice is open for every law school graduate, competition is harsh.” He says that applications to the law school have risen in recent years, as a consequence.
Practicing law in Brazil
Brazil is by far the largest legal market in Latin America, given that its GDP is 30 percent larger than the next-biggest Latin American economy. The main route to being admitted to practice in Brazil is through obtaining a law degree from an accredited institution. A number of top law school in Brazil confer LL.M. degrees, including Ibmec, which has four campuses in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Brasília. Insper is another leading law school in Brazil that offers accredited LL.M. degree.
Foreign trained lawyers can requalify in Brazil, as long as they have a law degree that is accredited. But they will still be required to pass the Brazilian Bar exam.
[See the Top 10 LL.M. programs in Latin America]
Beyond that, foreign lawyers can register with the bar association as “foreign law consultants”. This permits them to provide legal advice in Brazil but they have very limited powers; they can only consult on their home country law and international law. They must also obtain a residency visa to achieve consultancy status.
Becoming a lawyer in Chile
In Chile, a large legal market, foreign lawyers can obtain a full license to practice law, but they must be a permanent resident and complete a degree at a university in the country. These requirements are the same as the rules for domestic applicants. Students can study at a number of law schools that offer LL.M. degrees, including the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and the Adolfo Ibáñez University in Santiago.
A number of foreign law schools also offer degrees in the country such as the American University Washington College of Law and Heidelberg University in Germany through its Heidelberg Center for Latin America.
Foreign lawyers who have qualified abroad do not need a full license to practice in Chile; they can offer advisory services in foreign and international law by becoming a foreign legal consultant.
They can also requalify as full local lawyers if they have a degree that is recognized by Chile’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Supreme Court is charged with granting licenses to practice law in Chile. There is also a requirement that the foreign lawyer has permanent residence in the country and has completed a six month internship at Corporación de Asistencia Judicial, a government entity, doing pro bono legal work. This entitles foreign lawyers to appear in Chilean court.
Practicing law in Mexico
Mexico has a large economy, but its legal market is small relative to its Latin American rivals, suggesting there’s an opportunity for foreign lawyers to make their mark in Mexico. Typically, students interested in becoming lawyers in Mexico must complete legal education. A number of leading law schools in the country offer LL.M degrees, including Tecnológico de Monterrey, a private university in Mexico.
Foreign lawyers can be qualified to practice law in Mexico if there’s a treaty between their home country and Mexico, or a reciprocity agreement that aligns the countries’ legal systems. Foreign lawyers will need formal legal education, such as an LL.M. degree, and must successfully pass a legal exam to be admitted to the Mexico Bar.
Professional licenses to practice law are issued by Mexico’s General Professions Bureau, a federal authority. This gives lawyers permission to practice across the entire country.