Opening Statements

The Attorney Multipass

From his office at Butzel Long’s Detroit headquarters, lawyer Richard Rassel can watch the massive 18-wheel trucks driving across the Ambassador Bridge from Michigan into Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Most of those trucks started their long journey north to Canada from Mexico, crossing through three countries with three distinct legal systems, observes Rassel, the firm’s past chairman and current director of global client relations.

In some ways that journey is a fitting metaphor for the needs of most businesses these days.

As foreign trade becomes more common for even the smallest of businesses, a need for lawyers versed in multiple legal systems has emerged. And now the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law is stepping for­ward to help fill this need.

Earlier this year the law school launched a dual-degree program with Mexico’s Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, a private law school in the Mexican state of Nuevo León. The program is modeled after UDM’s 8-year-old dual-degree program with the University of Windsor Faculty of Law in Ontario, which allows law students to obtain combined J.D./LLB degrees in three years.

That program has had a total of 120 students studying in both countries since its inception. And its dual-degree grads have found their way to big law firms in Toronto, New York City and Chicago, among other cities, where they have put their international legal and language skills to work, says UDM law school dean Mark C. Gordon.

Students who start the U.S.-Mexican legal program in Detroit will spend a total of three years studying at UDM, followed by two years at ITESM. The reverse is true for students starting their studies in Mexico. In addition, UDM will offer 14 Mexican law courses that will be taught in Spanish.

Given the increasing amount of investment in Mexico, Latin America and South America, Gordon sees a larger pool for the Mexican dual law degree program. Gordon expects applicants to the program that begins this fall to include not only Hispanic students; he thinks the course will be attractive to those who want to continue to expand their Spanish language skills.

Gordon is confident of not only the demand for the program but also the need. “My advisers are saying that Latin America and Mexico are expanding markets. They are telling me that we need [lawyers] who are not just bilingual but also bicultural and bilegal.”

Nothing is stopping students from obtaining the schools’ NAFTA trifecta either. Interested students can obtain the trio of degrees in as little as six years.

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