Mexican Law Students in Legal Studies Program Are Tackling Real Court Cases
Law school students at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE), a university in Mexico City, are doing more than just reading textbooks. With hopes of becoming lawyers, these students are already working with clients and fighting for them in the courts. According to an article by the LA Times, “The center’s legal studies program combines law school training with hands-on public interest advocacy.” Javier Angulo, who is an attorney that has won Mexican Supreme Court cases, is the professor in charge of the program. He selects suits that could change social policies and then works with the students on the cases.The students take on citizens’ cases for free and for many clients, such as Alicia Gutierrez who lost more than $80,000 from an investment scam, the clinic is their “little star of hope.”Angulo is hoping the clinic can help to recover money for the thousands of investors who were affected after a firm called Grupo Sitma suddenly closed. His plan is to “sue Mexico's financial regulators under an untested law that allows class-action lawsuits, which are familiar in the United States but are just taking hold in Mexico.”The LA Times stated, “Many of [the students] probe uncharted terrain and have yielded legal precedents or led to new laws, such as one easing the penalty for abortions.” Some of the cases have made it to the Mexican Supreme Court and the students have won. Pedro Salazar, a legal scholar at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the legal studies program “has succeeded in exploring a new way of teaching law and, at the same time, is making an impact on legal culture in Mexico.”Currently, the clinic is being flooded with requests due to a documentary film that was released this spring. The movie showed a man who was convicted twice for a murder he did not commit but was exonerated thanks to the work of his lawyers. Although this case was not handled by the clinic, people are constantly asking Angulo and his students to take a look at the case of a family member or friend. The professor and his students have been examining the visitors' files, some reaching 5,000 pages, to offer an independent assessment of their cases. The reviews have revealed grievous breakdowns: shoddy work by lawyers, questionable rulings by judges.People like Esther Figueroa, who lost $40,000 from Grupo Sitma, have been trying to recover their money for over two years and feel better after meeting with the students in the legal studies program. Figueroa said, “With young people we have a different strength. That they're young gives me faith that they will fight."