Like many of my colleagues in transactional practice who focus on the social enterprise spectrum, the path to my current role was not a straight line. It has however been very true to what I believe in: integrity, justice and fairness, and service to others. I hope this personal post gives you some insight on experiences that guide my legal practice today.
I grew up in Brazil to parents who were both accountants and later became pastors. Coming from extremely poor families, they were among the first in their respective families to graduate from college. They instilled in me a passion for learning and they taught me entrepreneurship at an early age: at 6, I helped my mom bake and sell cakes to help our church buy land for construction; at 15, I made and sold candles to my high school mates and to make my monthly allowance go further; at 17, I started selling my mom’s ginger candies at my choir to help pay for law school, and continued doing so until my parents’ candy business took off and grew to a four-employee shop. It still saddens me that I was not familiar with worker-ownership conversion when my parents decided to close their doors in 2012 to return to ministry. Their pastoral lives have taught me greatly about compassion, caring, and fighting for the less fortunate, and living a life of service. I have also learned from and adopted their faith as my own.
I was 17 when I first started law school in 2004. I am not special – this is common in Brazil. One of the biggest differences is that while the American Bar Association requires every law student to complete at least 83 credit hours to graduate in an accredited law school (usually within a six-semester period), Brazilian law schools require over 3,100 credit hours (usually within a ten-semester period). I couldn’t afford to be a full-time student and was blessed to start my first job as a full-time law clerk a month before the beginning of classes. I thought I could make a real difference in the world by becoming a public defender. By the end of my second semester, corruption and political instability in my city scared me and convinced me that it wasn’t safe to do so. That’s when I became a trainee in corporate tax auditing and consulting.
By the time I was first admitted to the Brazilian Bar, in 2009, I had served as a tax adviser to Global Fortune 500 companies and similarly situated companies for over four years. Right or wrong, that taught me to privilege experience and practical training over school grades. I learned to endure long hours and constant multi-tasking from my five years of full-time law school and concurrent full-time tax work, with as much as four hours of commute daily. Through this tax practice I developed problem solving skills and a deep interest in legal research and writing. Encouraged by a manager and first mentor who was (is!) herself an academic, I was that one trainee unearthing dusty books and writing long legal memos and coming up with legal theories for federal litigation. Nonetheless, I knew I did not belong there. Halfway through law school I was convinced that only the “birthplace of human rights” could teach me what it meant to resist oppression, and fight for those rights. So, I began to plot a move to France, not only for my graduate studies but for a new life. I left Brazil in 2009.
It was in Europe that I worked outside of legal practice for the first time. I was burned out and needed something different. I am fascinated by finding patterns in groups and communities, and so studying social sciences seemed right. While I got my bearings and furthered my education, I cared for babies as a jeune fille au pair; I became a cook, then a server, and hostess. I lost my voice twice while learning to exist in two different languages besides mine, and I am still finding it. I learned a great deal about life and human nature while working in restaurants as a woman, a person of color, and an immigrant in two different countries. I was humiliated for having too much education while being treated significantly better than my undocumented colleagues. Those experiences deeply shaped my life and changed my work. I learned that there isn’t black and white without shades of gray and clarity about my own values is my way of finding that balance.
During that time, I also worked with high government officials under a Secretary of State, and even lobbied a French Constitutional Justice and a European parliamentarian on human rights. Inevitably, these roles brought me back to the practice of law, but now as a social scientist. While working on a master’s degree in public law and pol. sci. and subsequently on a PhD in Comparative Constitutional Law, I became a general counsel to a large French federation, advising hundreds of nonprofit organizations on a multitude of issues, from labor law to zoning, freedom of expression to administrative litigation, taxes, grants, governmental relations, and charitable projects.
However, loving a wonderful American brought me to the U.S. Here, I was required to go back to law school so I could practice law, and, consequently, a few years later I made the hard decision not to complete my PhD.
As a LLM candidate at the University of Texas School of Law, I pursued my interest in public service by taking on all the pro bono projects I could. I collaborated in researching and compiling country conditions data provided by human rights organizations and international media, a necessary step toward proving eligibility for refugee status. I had the gratifying experience of introducing parents and young adults with disabilities to alternatives to guardianship, and supported immigrants on Texas’ southern border with their refugee applications.
At this point, I decided to dig back into my corporate law experience, now flavored by a solid public interest law experience. The UT’s Community Development & Entrepreneurship Clinic presented me with such an opportunity. Although I worked hard to get into the clinic, I turned out lucky to be assigned to a variety of community land trust matters, involving drafting and negotiating legislation, advising on entity formation, and contracting; and this experience set me up for success at my first employment as an American attorney with a large legal services corporation covering 32 counties in the state of Ohio.
While I am certain that my Brazilian and French practices were essential to my work, the clinic showed me a limitation of my international practice. I had learned to think within and outside of the box of legal training, and be creative with transactions and organizational structure, but moving between civil law and common law countries meant that I needed to learn to compartmentalize laws that were no longer relevant to my practice; I had to keep the general concepts of legal thought, and needed to learn new laws and practices of a new country and legal system – three times over – always leaving me with this feeling that I am not as qualified as the next attorney; and I can tell you that getting more diplomas than most around me has not eased that feeling. Certainly, being neurodivergent hasn’t made things any simpler either. As a professional committed to excellence and integrity, these challenges only pushed me to work harder toward mastery of substantive law. The UT clinic is also where I came across the groundbreaking work done by Janelle Orsi and the Sustainable Economies Law Center, both of which have offered me a great deal of support (accepting me as a SELC Fellow) when a large legal services organization hired me to develop a transactional practice focused on cooperative and shared ownership models in Ohio. As fate would have it, a group of organizers had recently formed a cooperative development organization in Dayton, Ohio, and I had the honor to learn and grow with them, becoming involved in community organizing and cooperative and business development for the next several years. I will always be grateful for the SELC, ABLE, and Co-op Dayton.
Nineteen years after I started law school, four graduate degrees and four bar admissions later, I am more open-minded, diligent, and determined than I ever thought I would be, and I am extremely proud of where I got to and how I got here; and as hard as it was, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Today I am no longer afraid of fighting for social justice, and I am prepared for the task, even when that looks like wordsmithing a services agreement. As a transactional lawyer, I am pleased to know that my skills are as necessary (if not more!) to the local community as they would have been to conglomerates and VC driven projects and companies, and that I do not have to compromise on my principles and values to get it done; good intentions without good deeds (and kindness) are a no-go in my book.
I am fortunate to have a team that gets it too – who not only generally adopts but actually leans into shared values in selecting clients we want to work with, projects we are passionate about, in how we make commitments about deliverables and work quality, and how we respect and support our team’s mental health and personal lives. I’ve grown as a person and as a professional since joining the firm in 2021. I am proud of our team and the work we do. I am proud of becoming Jason’s first business partner and I look forward to discovering the future we’ll shape together as a team.