As a senior associate with one of Brazil's leading law firms, Marcella Cruz often found herself working with U.S. clients doing business in Brazil and wanted to learn more about the American legal system. When her firm, Veirano Advogados, offered her a scholarship to earn an LL.M. at an American law school, she began searching for top-ranked law schools and applied to six programs.
Marcella ultimately chose Vanderbilt because it met her criteria: A top-ranked law school in a pleasant and affordable city where she and her husband would enjoy spending a year. "I wanted to study at a good university, and after that I was looking for a good place to live that was affordable," she said. "When I researched universities in the U.S., it was clear that Vanderbilt was top-ranked. I also liked that the classes are small and that I would study with the J.D. students, which was really important because I wanted to learn what it was like to study law in the U.S."
Vanderbilt requires all LL.M. and first-year J.D. students to take a one-week introductory class, The Life of the Law, during student orientation week. "The class was great, because when you arrive at law school, you have no idea how things work," she said. "Life of the Law helps you build the confidence you need to start your law classes."
Marcella's biggest learning curve were the profound differences between Brazil's civil legal system in Brazil and the American common law system. "Civil law is completely different than common law, so I learned new things in every class," she said. Having completed her LL.M., she believes her understanding of the American legal system will improve her ability to serve American clients. "Knowing how the U.S. system works will help me understand the concerns my firm's American clients have while doing business in Brazil," she said. "Studying at Vanderbilt gave me insight into their perspective—it allowed me to get into their heads!"
Marcella took Corporations from Professor Randall Thomas, and Securities Regulation from Professor Yesha Yadav. "My classes challenged me every single day," she said, "but even thought it was challenging, the professors were all supportive and always ready to take your questions. The quality of the classes at Vanderbilt truly exceeded my expectations."
She moved to Nashville with her husband, and the couple became friends with Alvaro Manrique Barrenechea LLM'19, a Peruvian attorney who lives in Nashville and recently passed the New York Bar exam. "Alvaro invited us to his house for Christmas," she said.
Marcella and her husband enjoyed their year in Nashville. "Rio is a very cosmopolitan city, and I wanted to live in an interesting city in the U.S.," she said. "Nashville is a great place to live! You can go to concerts and bars and also enjoy nature, since there are lots of great parks where you can hike."
She looks forward to applying what she learned in Vanderbilt’s LL.M. program in her Brazilian legal practice. “I wanted to pursue a master’s in law in the U.S. in order to understand the culture and deliver the best work I can to my clients,” she said. “I gained confidence in English and in understanding U.S. law.”