Bar News - November 17, 2006
“Spanish Immersion” CLE Offers True-Life Experience
By: Jeffrey M. Goodrich
I recently attended “The 2nd Annual Spanish Immersion and the Culture of Law in Mexico” CLE which was co-sponsored by the NH Bar Association CLE Department and the Arizona State Bar and found that it exceeded my expectations.
The overall goal of the CLE was to afford lawyers a chance to improve their Spanish language skills while at the same time learning something about the Mexican legal system.
Classes were broken into two two-hour sessions each day and were devoted alternately to the study of the Spanish language and to instruction on various legal topics, including the Mexican legal system, trial practice in Mexico, family law, criminal law, domestic violence issues and business law. All sessions—including questions, answers and discussions—were conducted exclusively in Spanish and attendees were encouraged to speak Spanish among themselves even when not in class.
The Spanish language classes were divided into three levels of proficiency: beginning, intermediate and advanced. While intense, the atmosphere was one of mutual support and encouragement, making the language exercises much more enjoyable than typical academic foreign language grammar classes tend to be.
The afternoons were reserved for additional activities, which included meetings with a Mexican magistrate to answer questions regarding the Mexican judicial system. There was also a question-and-answer forum with a panel of Mexicans dealing with topics such as doing business in Mexico and owning property south of the border.
There are a number of interesting aspects to the Mexican judicial system. For example, in Mexico almost all litigation is done through written submissions to the court with no jury trials. In some instances entire cases will be conducted without the opposing attorneys ever meeting each other.
Also, a notary public is very different from what we commonly think of here in the United States. To be a notary in Mexico you must first obtain a law degree, then you must study for the notary exam, a rigorous test during which you are given sample scenarios in sealed envelopes and are expected to explain how you would successfully resolve the issues presented therein. Finally, you must then wait until a current notary dies, thereby making available another notary position. By notarizing deeds and contracts, notaries are entitled to receive a percentage of the value of the sale or contract.
It was also interesting to learn that foreign nationals are not permitted to own residential property within 100 kilometers of the border or 50 kilometers of the coast, yet companies which can be wholly owned by non-citizens are permitted to own commercial real estate within these restricted zones.
On the issue of domestic violence in Mexico, I learned that restraining orders only restrict the respondent from entering the petitioner’s home—all other contact is permitted and the petitioner needs to submit to a medical examination and then provide a medical certificate to the court in order to obtain a domestic violence protective order.
Aside from the formal instruction provided by the faculty, I found that breaking away from the confines of the hotel allowed me the opportunity to put what I had learned from my Spanish language classes into practice—usually by conversing with restaurant staff and cab drivers. I found the people of Guadalajara to be very friendly and gracious and it was a pleasure to stroll along the streets after hours taking in the lively Mexican nightlife.
Certainly, for attorneys who wish to improve their Spanish language skills or who have a client base from Latin America, this is a CLE well worth attending.
Jeff Goodrich is with the Legal Advice and Referral Center in Concord, NH and has been a member of the NH Bar since a1994. He may be reached at email@example.com.