Aliya Cunningham has extensive management experience in the oil industry both in the United States and her native Azerbaijan, but she has yet to put her legal degree to work professionally. That’s her goal as she works part-time toward an advanced degree at the Law Center. She would like to work on the legal side of contracts, project support and procurement, familiar territory from her work with British Petroleum in Baku and her current full-time job at ExxonMobil in Houston. Fluent in English, Russian, Azerbaijani, Turkish and “working on French,” her skills, and an advanced law degree, would seem to position her well for a career in many international fields. Cunningham arrived in the United States in 2008, shortly after receiving her law degree from Western University in Baku. Her husband, a U.S. citizen, pursued a master’s degree in project management at Boston University and she found work with an oil services company. Oil industry jobs brought them to Houston, but, “The future is up in the air,” she says. “It depends on my husband’s job. And, if I have a baby, my priorities would change.” Although she was very homesick when she first moved to the U.S., she says she is getting used to American ways and life in big cities. “I’ve learned to drive here,” she says proudly, “which is a big challenge.” She would like to put that license to good use by seeing more of the United States. She and her husband took a six-month tour of Europe on a BMW motorcycle and, she says, she would like to do the same here from coast to coast. “If I have a baby, we would just get a sidecar,” she adds with a laugh.
With two young children and a career path that can take her just about anywhere in the world, “flexibility” is the key word for Maivi Cristina Torres DuMont. In addition to working toward her LLM, she currently works at Chevron reviewing contract compliance while her husband is a civil engineer at ConocoPhillips. “I am doing International Law so I can be flexible to move around the world if the opportunity comes along,” she says. “With my husband working in the same field, it gives us the flexibility to work anywhere. International law gives me more flexibility than strictly oil and gas.” Her flexibility allowed her to live in Miami for five years before returning to Venezuela for law school and work in the petroleum industry and then moving to Houston more than four years ago. “I take it one day at a time,” she says. “I don’t set expectations. I just go with the flow. If we decide to move, I’ll just take everybody with me,” she adds with a laugh. Her immediate plan is to pass the New York bar, which will enable her to practice federal law and in-house corporate law, and then qualify for her Texas bar card in three years. Working in the U.S., she says, “will always be my first choice.”
Education: Law Degree, Universidade Vale do Rio Doce, Governador Valadares, Brazil, 1999. Postgraduate degree, Civil law and Civil Process law, Universidade Gama Filho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2007.
It’s a family affair in more ways than one for LL.M. student Karla Galo, who says the law is “in her blood” with both parents, a brother and sister practicing in her homeland of Brazil. As a young lawyer, and even before she earned her undergraduate law degree, Galo served as a family law volunteer, offering counseling and advice on adoptions, custody, child support and other issues to those who could not afford an attorney. Now she is juggling a family of her own while coping with the rigors of her graduate legal studies at the University of Houston Law Center. She moved to Houston 3½ years ago when her husband, an engineer with an oil and gas company, was transferred to the region. Though steeped in family law, but with a law school concentration in business law, Galo says she would like to work for a U.S. energy company, perhaps dealing with international contracts. “I love Brazil and I miss my family, but I plan to spend many more years in the United States. I see a lot of possibilities for my future and the future of my family here.” Her immediate future is a hectic one with a toddler daughter and a 9-year-old Little Leaguer.
Vulate J. Hage is in a hurry. She wants to learn all she can about the American legal system and energy law via the Law Center’s LL.M. program before returning home to Liberia and “making things happen” in a country still finding its way after 14 years of devastating civil war. “I will take just long enough to pack my books and I will go back,” she says, hoping to find the proper post to help rebuild Liberia in whatever way she can. “The war has been really bad, really bad,” she says, a pained expression crossing her face. “Everything broke down. The country was completely lawless. We are at the stage of growing back, but we must avoid those things that would let us slide back into chaos. We are going through the process of peace, but it is a very tedious process.” A key, she says, will be the country’s first constitutional election in 2011 that she hopes the world will note as a sign of stability. But the road to Liberia’s recovery lies in orderly development of its natural resources -- iron ore, diamonds, timber, rubber and newly explored oil fields. “We have the resources,” says Hage. “We have laws in place, but not the means to get them to work.” Armed with her advanced degree in energy law, she hopes she will have the credibility to make a difference in a country where skilled professionals are a rarity in the energy area. “The oil is beyond our imagination. Proceeds from oil could completely turn around Liberia,” she says, her words spilling out on top of each other. “But, if we are not aware of what needs to be done, we could have trouble. Hopefully I will be able to guide, advise and work for the community,” thereby assuring that the African nation’s financial dividends filter down to the people. “One of my goals is to help young lawyers,” she says, and outlines plans to form workshops and outreach programs to find ways to meet the needs of the people. “I believe knowledge is power,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone. Years of factional fighting and civil war left behind legions of uneducated and unskilled young people who were recruited to fight – and who are ill-equipped for life after war. There was no attempt to rehabilitate or re-socialize them, Hage says, but she envisions endless opportunity for unskilled labor in the development of the country’s infrastructure and natural resources. “I just want to see the young people have dreams and opportunities open to them,” she says, with a strong note of passion in her voice. “This is what I see in America.”
David Hernandez wants to build a bridge – a new spirit of cooperation between the United States and his homeland, Mexico, that will lead to better days for both nations. “Things are very bad right now in Mexico,” he says, noting daily news of gang warfare, kidnappings and assassinations. “And there is a huge amount of corruption (so) that the law does not get to the point of justice.” The violence and lawlessness spreads north across the border and worsens already tense relations between the two countries, he says. “I want to be part of the generation with an academic background that can somehow promote better cooperation between the two countries. But we have to establish the basis for that cooperation. We must be well educated and well prepared,” he says. Toward that end, Hernandez is pursuing his LL.M. at the University of Houston Law Center. (He is no stranger to the United States or the Houston area, having attended junior high and high school “stateside” before earning his law degree in Mexico. “But somehow you have to be a part of the U.S. legal system and the American way,” he says in explaining his decision to return to Houston for an advanced legal degree. “It is one of the most recognized legal systems in the world and the number one economy in the world.” He hopes eventually to become a U.S. citizen. “One of my goals is to be a success in international law and have a dual practice with offices in the states and Mexico. I will be a U.S. citizen and a Mexican – and in combining these legal interests and cultures, I hope to build a practice in immigration and commercial law.” He is well on his way and unfazed by a broken leg he suffered in a run-in with a goalie during try-outs for a club soccer team the first week of school. ”It was a sign from God,” he says with a shrug and a smile – perhaps alluding to the burdens of his LL.M. studies. And with that, Hernandez heads off to study, carrying books under one arm and hobbling slightly with his knee-to-toe cast.
Education: LLB, University of Calicut, Kerala, India, 1995; BA political science, University of Calicut, 1992.
Surendran Koran will be racking up the frequent flyer miles if his plan to launch an international practice with offices in Houston and New Delhi takes off. “That is my idea,” he says, “I just don’t know if it will be practical! But first I need a better understanding of the U.S. system of law.” Toward that end, he is immersed in studies for his LL.M. at the Law Center. But Koran has already passed the Texas bar, and he started a solo practice in Houston after arriving here in 2008 after more than 13 years working before the bar in India, including three before the Supreme Court of India. He is experienced in both civil and criminal law with a focus on labor and “industrial” disputes. He was drawn to the United States, and the Law Center, when his wife was offered a nursing contract with a Clear Lake hospital. Having come from a small, rural village to India’s bustling capital and on to Houston, Koran says he and his wife and two young daughters are happily settled here. “Originally I came with the idea of going back to India,” he says, “but now I think it is a good idea to stay here and enjoy the good life of this great nation.” While his wife and older daughter plan to seek U.S. citizenship, Koran says he cannot until India changes a law that prohibits citizens of other countries, and those holding dual citizenship, from practicing there.
Paola Rivas is pursuing her LL.M. degree at the Law Center for a primary reason: she hopes to follow in the footsteps of her father, an environmentalist who worked to protect and develop the natural resources of her native state of Chocó on the Pacific Ocean side of Colombia. “I will go back to my country,” she declares, where she can continue the work to preserve her ecologically important region. “My area is considered, along with the Amazon, as one of the kidneys of the world,” she says – alluding to the region’s capacity to filter and purify the Earth’s atmosphere. But the region is also rich in largely untapped natural resources, she adds, and care must be taken to develop them properly. “We don’t have an infrastructure of any kind,” Rivas laments, “and there is a lot to do.” She wants to work in the energy arena, where she can assist in the development of oil and gas resources and especially with alternative energy initiatives. And she acknowledges that development of any variety would economically benefit her region, one of the poorest in Colombia. “But first I would like to have some experience here in the United States. I would like to work with an American energy company and then become a liaison between the United States and Colombia,” Rivas says. At the Law Center, she is specializing in the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources program, and she enjoys her in-depth studies. While she notes how there are differences between the Colombian and U.S. legal systems, she predicts that knowing the methodology of the American system will be a definite plus when she returns home. Rivas adds that she is not the only one in her family who is working hard to absorb the lessons of a challenging school: her 5-year-old son is attending his first classes in Houston. “Not only am I starting my LL.M.,” she says with a laugh, “but I am starting kindergarten!”
Vignaswari “Vicky” Saminathan
Education: MBA, Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 2005; LLM, University College London, London, U.K., 1998; LLB, University of Sheffield, U.K., 1990; BS, University of Science Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia, 1985.
Vicky Saminathan wants to be a citizen of the world -- and she is well on her way. While Malaysia is her home, she has studied and worked in the United Kingdom, Oklahoma City, and Houston and hopes to pass the New York bar exam. That would allow her to practice law in three countries. She would prefer to work in the United States, but adds, “I will go wherever the job is, anywhere I can build my career.” With a strong background in tax law, international business law and finance, she says, “I will be pulling from all my other experiences no matter what I end up doing.” She is fairly certain about one thing: With a BS in education, a law degree, an MBA, and soon-to-be two LLMs, she says, “I think I’m done with my education.” No matter where this world traveler goes, she will have strong ties to Houston. Her brother and sister, both engineers, live and work here -- her brother at NASA while her sister contracts in the aerospace industry. And there is another draw to Houston and the U.S. in general. “People are a lot more friendly here,” she says “You can meet anybody and they will smile at you and you will have a small chat. In England, for instance, you might meet that person 10 times and on the 11th time they might say, ‘Hello.’ “
Pinar Tatar has attorneys in her family, but that’s not why she’s wanted to be a lawyer since she was 6-years-old. “I thought it would be like Ally McBeal,” she says with a wide smile, “nice clothes, high heels. But I ‘m finding it’s not like that…it’s a lot of work and dust in the libraries.” Still, she’s happy with her career choice and her decision to seek a second LL.M. degree at the Law Center. After obtaining her LL.B. and LL.M. in Administrative Law at the University of Ankara, Tatar won an all-expenses paid scholarship from the Turkish national petroleum company with the stipulation that she seek an advanced degree in the United States. She chose the Law Center, she said, because of its educational reputation and practical approach to energy law. Opportunities for networking in Houston, the acknowledged energy capital of the world, also played a big role, she says. “The school is exactly what I expected, but a little bit harder,” she says, again with an infectious smile. After graduation she will go back to Turkey to fulfill her scholarship commitment, but she has yet to decide what type of law she will practice in Turkey’s national oil company. She admits that her long-range plans are a bit uncertain: “My aim right now is to just get my degree,” she says, “It seems like it will be a very challenging year.” Short-range, she’d like to take in a concert at Toyota Center and travel to California and New York, or maybe a side trip to Boston – coincidentally, the home turf of the fictional Ally McBeal.
Despite six decades of political animosity, Jui Tsou believes his future may lie to the west of his native Taiwan in the burgeoning economy of mainland China. “We have a special business relationship so I don’t think there will be a problem,” said Tsou who is specializing in Intellectual Property and Information Law at the Law Center. Patent and trademark law “has a big potential in China,” he said. “We can cooperate with each other in business,” and the rest is “just politics.” As proof, he points to his father who worked for an electrical company in China for many years with no problems. Tsou said he came to the Law Center because of its high ranking in Intellectual Property Law and its exceptional international reputation. He hopes his training here will stand him in good stead as he faces the daunting task of passing bar exams in both China and Taiwan.