Whether it is a matter of nature or nurture, it seems that Leopoldo Escobar was destined to be a tax lawyer. The J.D./LL.M. in Taxation Venezuelan-born lawyer is the son of a retired tax lawyer and tax judge mother, and his father was a lawyer at the International Monetary Fund, where he is now of counsel. Even Leopoldo’s wife is a tax lawyer.
Nearly 20 Years Tax Law Experience
The 43-year-old is the head of the international tax practice at Norton Rose Fulbright, which used to be the second largest law firm in Caracas, Venezuela. He already has two LL.M.s – one in international taxation from Leiden University in the Netherlands, and another from the Universidad Central de Venezuela.
Escobar had built a life and professional reputation around Caracas, lecturing on international and Venezuelan tax law at his alma mater, Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, where he graduated in 1999. Five years ago, Escobar and his wife, Maria Leticia, made the tough decision to raise their two boys, now eight and 11, outside of Venezuela. His wife and their sons moved to Miami, where his wife works remotely for her firm in Caracas, and Escobar would fly in once a month.
Decision to Pursue J.D./LL.M. in U.S.
"When the situation there went from bad to worse, we started looking at options," says Escobar. "For three years, I commuted between Caracas and Doral. I had worked very hard to become a partner in a prestigious firm there, and I didn't want to give that away, but I was missing events in my sons' lives."
As he started looking at other paths, South Florida was the obvious choice. He already knew about Miami Law.
"I had a lot of information about U.S. law schools because as a professor I received a lot of requests for recommendations for applications to study in the U.S. and the UM law program is very respected in the Venezuelan legal community," Escobar says.
Ability to Work and Study at Same Time
"I knew I wanted to get a J.D., but I also needed to continue to work while making the transition to understanding U.S. tax matters. By entering through the LL.M. program, there was more flexibility and ability to transfer into the J.D. requirements and jointly work on the tax courses. It was efficient, and I could start right away."
One of the great benefits of the joint program is it offers the opportunity to earn both degrees in less time than taking each degree separately. In addition, the joint J.D./LL.M. enables foreign lawyers, depending on the number of Advanced Standing Credits awarded for their foreign law degree, to receive both their LL.M. and J.D. degrees within 2.5 to 3 years. For someone like Escobar this option is ideal - he is able to stay on at his firm while earning both degrees.
“The deans and directors of all of our programs work together to address the needs of each student,” says Patricia Brown, director of the graduate program in taxation. “This gives us a lot of flexibility, which produced a great result for Leo.”
On the Path to Being Full-Fledged U.S. Attorney
Having fulfilled his LL.M., Escobar says he is now authorized by The Florida Bar to represent Venezuelan clients as a foreign legal consultant provisionally until he receives his J.D. Over the summer and fall, he will complete his J.D. coursework and says he will be a full-fledged practicing U.S. attorney shortly after that.
Escobar says that Miami Law has provided the training and tools required to make the change to practicing taxation in the U.S. upon graduation.
“I simply could not think of a better way of making such transition in this complex area of the law,” he says. “It would simply be unfair to my clients and my peers to do it any other way. The teachers at Miami Law constantly challenge me and have the patience to deal with the many questions that arise to someone with my background re-studying the law after years of prior experience.”
Wish to Return to Venezuela in Future
Escobar hasn't given up going back to Venezuela, though he doesn't see himself returning in the next decade. "But when things do turn around, there is going to be a huge need for talent."
He would like to continue to work for the firm in Venezuela or one of its U.S. offices in connection with projects involving Venezuela and Latin America or find an in-house position in Miami.
"For Norton Rose Fulbright, it will likely represent an added benefit to have someone here with the potential to increase their assistance of the Latin American market with U.S. matters," he says. "Otherwise, I am sure there is a fit in the Miami market for a person like me with a lot of experience."