Last semester, Miami Law students and Student Bar Association (SBA) members Drew Aiken, Chelsey Ziegler, Todd Friedman and Rob Weaver crafted the Language Initiative Proposal, which pushed for students to receive credit toward their J.D. degree from entry-level language courses. Traditionally, non-law UM courses must be at or above the 500 level to count towards the J.D. degree. Miami Law administration recently approved courses at the 200-level for law students interested in learning other languages.
Aiken, who is fluent in French, serves as the first Miami Law student to experiment with the initiative, which may determine how a foreign language and law degree can be integrated in the future.
"The class is extremely difficult," said Aiken (2L) who enrolled in an advanced Spanish class without having done any prior study. Her classmates have studied the language for two to three years. "I think this challenge will be more than worthwhile, and I will have plenty of opportunities to practice."
The initiative couldn't have come at a better time.
"As Miami is a hub for international affairs, business opportunity, and public interest involvement, the ability to communicate in Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian has become critical," said Aiken.
Each student involved in crafting the initiative acknowledged how important being multilingual is for a legal professional who wants to compete in an international market. However, the system that was in place was burdensome and costly. Students had to essentially put in hours and spend more money for extracurricular studies that weren't going to be counted toward their degree.
Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Ileana Porras acknowledges that the requests could be the beginning of something much larger for the law school. The SBA's demands plus a similar request by the Hispanic Law Students Association (HLSA) led the administration to explore partnering with the Department of Languages to develop a series of Spanish for lawyers courses. "Languages can only open doors for law students who are interested in commercial or business litigation and all areas of law since the profession is by nature contingent on effective communication," said Aiken who has an interest in working in human rights law.
"What is the point in going through the lengthy, difficult process of becoming an attorney, if we cannot represent our clients to the best of our ability and be the best in our profession?"
Aiken says the passage of the proposal reflects the school's dedication to providing the best education possible and the administration's understanding of the changing circumstances of the legal community.
"The objective is to train a generation of lawyers that is better able to participate in an increasingly multi-language legal setting – from immigration law to labor law, business law or real estate law," said Dean Porras.