Among Georgia’s 328 newly minted lawyers, Adriana Ibarra Vazquez is the first foreign legal consultant to become a member of the State Bar of Georgia.
It’s been a nine-year journey. Ibarra Vazquez, 40, was an intellectual property lawyer in her native Mexico when she fell in love with an Atlantan, married him and moved here in 2008.
“It took me so long, so many years, so much money and so much effort,” Ibarra Vazquez said, adding that she’s thrilled to finally be practicing as a Georgia lawyer after almost a decade as a foreign legal consultant.
After finding out last month that she’d passed the February bar exam, Ibarra Vazquez was sworn in June 14 as a Georgia bar member by Cobb Superior Court Chief Judge C. LaTain Kell.
She started work last week in the legal department at Barco, a Belgian company that makes high-tech screens for cinemas, hospitals and security cameras. Ibarra Vazquez is handling copyrights, licensing and contracts for Barco’s global operations, which include Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, from its regional office in Duluth.
Ibarra Vazquez had been practicing IP and tech law for seven years at Sanchez-DeVanny, a big firm in Monterrey, Mexico, when she met her future husband, Dan Cartwright, through a mutual friend while in Atlanta attending a meeting of the International Trademark Association.
She had gotten interested in intellectual property in law school at Tecnologico de Monterrey. After graduating in 1999 she went to work for its IP department, overseeing patents and copyrights for its faculty and students, as well as trademark and domain name licensing for the university, one of the largest in Mexico.
She also was the legal adviser to NIC Mexico, which registers Internet domain names ending in “.mx,” and is a longtime member of the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry, serving on the audit committee for more than a decade.
Right before moving to Atlanta nine years ago, Ibarra Vazquez realized that neither her law degree nor her LL.M. in international law would allow her to sit for the Georgia bar exam. The Georgia Office of Bar Admissions requires a U.S. degree.
Instead, Ibarra Vazquez secured the license from the state bar to practice as a foreign legal consultant—one of only seven in the state.
“It’s a little bit complex. That’s why there are only seven,” Ibarra Vazquez said. “To provide legal advice on Mexican law, I had to go through this.”
With that certification, she could advise local clients on foreign law—but foreign legal consultants cannot actually practice law in Georgia. Among other things, they can’t represent anyone in court, execute wills, trusts, custody or divorce agreements—or advise on state or federal law.
“What foreign consultants can bring here is our experience working with clients and identifying legal issues,” she said. “We know how to handle situations.”
Ibarra Vazquez said that Mexico’s legal system is based on civil law, not common law as in the U.S., so U.S. law really is quite different. On the other hand, she said, her area of trademark law is not so different in Mexico, because it’s based on international treaties and principles.
Ibarra Vazquez continued to work remotely for Sanchez-DeVanny from Atlanta. But she wanted to actually practice law in her new home and so in 2012 she enrolled in law school at Mercer University.
“I like being a lawyer. I’m good,” she said. “My only option when I decided I wanted to sit for the bar was the J.D.”
Now, earning a one-year LL.M. qualifies foreign-licensed lawyers to take the Georgia bar exam, but that was not the case when Ibarra Vazquez started law school. (The Office of Bar Admissions changed the rule in November 2014, paving the way for LL.M. programs for foreign lawyers.)
So instead, she quit her job at Sanchez-DeVanny and commuted from Atlanta to Macon to attend Mercer’s full-time J.D. program. Ibarra Vazquez said she learned she was pregnant on her first day of law school. “I remember feeling my daughter kicking me in contracts class,” she said.
Even though she was commuting from Atlanta, she got involved at Mercer, serving as president of the Tech and Intellectual Property Law Society and vice president of the Hispanic Law Students’ Association—along with several externships, including one for the Georgia PATENTS program at Georgia Lawyers for the Arts, helping low-income inventors patent their works.
After graduating in 2015, she started working for plaintiffs firm Hall & Lampros, assisting Spanish-speaking clients while waiting to obtain her Georgia bar license.
While Ibarra Vazquez has embarked on a new and long-awaited phase of her career as a local lawyer for Barco, she’s also secured the domain name Ibarravazquez.com. One never knows what the future holds.