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Brazilian attorney Bispo da Silva 23L sails past language hurdle

Lisa Ashmore |
Pamela Bispo da Silva

Good lawyers have to be great storytellers—which is impossible without a command of language. So, when a lack of fluency in English was standing between Pamela Bispo da Silva 23L and her dreams, she left the small town of Rio Claro, Brazil, and accepted an au pair job in Pennsylvania. She arrived knowing zero English but as a certified attorney with a Brazilian LLB degree.  

Two years later, she knew her second language well enough to enroll in an associate paralegal degree in Atlanta. But not long after, COVID-19 shut down in-person classes. 

“I was still trying to get used to the American school system, which was very different from what I was used to. Having to take classes online helped me to create systems to manage my time well and stay on top of all my assignments, but I definitely missed being able to be in a classroom and socialize,” Bispo da Silva said. “Because I do not have family here, I was hoping that school would help me to connect and meet new people, but the pandemic had other plans. 

“I had not seen my family in three years,” she said. “I remember feeling very anxious and overwhelmed with the thought that my family could be affected, and I would not be able to see them again. To cope with anxiety and the uncertainty, I focused all my energy on my studies.” 

She’s wanted to be a lawyer for as long as she can remember. She earned a full scholarship at Methodist University of Piracicaba in Brazil (for a five-year legal degree program) at age 17. She passed the Brazilian bar exam with the highest grade in her class, a 9.9 out of 10. After graduation, she interned with both a public defender’s office and in family law for roughly a year, then started seeking in-house counsel positions.

“But every time I applied for a job, I was denied because they required fluency in English,” she said. Another setback was that despite earning a coveted spot in a legal postgraduate program, she realized the expense was too great, so she applied to the Au Pair program.

After moving to Atlanta and earning a paralegal degree, her Optional Practical Training (employment allowed as part of a student visa) was about to expire. She applied to Emory Law and received a partial scholarship. She’s been at Copeland, Stair, Valz & Lovell, LLP, here since 2022 in various capacities. As a full-time student taking 15 credits per semester, she couldn’t work while earning her LLM, but during summer break she returned to CSVL and completed Emory Law’s yearlong LLM program late last year.

“At the end of my clerkship, they offered me a job as an associate upon my graduation,” she said. “After I graduated in December 2023, I took a couple of months off to prepare for the Bar.” She’s worked at CSVL as a full-time law clerk since March 2024, and graduated to associate in April, after passing the Georgia Bar Exam on her first attempt. 

“I really enjoy working there,” she said. “I do not plan on moving anytime soon. I want to be able to join some sections of the Georgia Bar and expand my network.”

She says her favorite Emory class was Alternate Dispute Resolution. 

“I loved ADR. The classes were on weekends and very dynamic,” she said. “I was able to play different roles, such as a negotiator, a mediator, and an attorney. The class helped me improve my interpersonal skills and taught me great persuasion skills.”  

English is no longer a problem, even navigating the sometimes-arcane language of law.

“It was my privilege to meet and work with Pam,” Kirsten Schaetzel said. She’s assistant director of Emory Law’s Legal Education Program and an English Language Specialist who has worked with many international students. “She was a stellar student as well as a great part of our LLM community,” Schaetzel said. “She served as secretary to the LLM Society and was our teaching assistant for the summer Legal Foundations program for international students. Encountering Pam and her ‘to-do’ attitude and wonderful smile was always a bright spot in my day.” 

“I had a great experience at Emory Law,” Bispo da Silva said. “I wish I had more time to enjoy Emory’s campuses, but as with many law students, most of my time was spent at the law library. But I felt welcomed by Emory’s professors and staff. They always showed interest in knowing my story and my experience as a foreign attorney.” She said they demonstrated they wanted to help her succeed.

“As I was preparing for the Bar, I had professors checking on me weekly and sending tips and words of encouragement,” she said. “Because I do not have my family here, having the support of my professors through that tough moment made a lot of difference and I will be forever grateful.”