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Video 1: 5 key differences between the US Legal System and the Civil Law System of Latin America

5 key differences between the US Legal System and the Civil Law System of Latin America

1. Legal Education is different

In the United States, a person may only enter the study of law AFTER they have first obtained a four-year undergraduate, known as a Bachelors’s Degree from a University. Some students will enter law school directly from their undergraduate studies while others decide to study law later in life after having worked in other careers or professions. Once they start law school they must study in a three-year law program at an accredited Law School to obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Once they have graduated, they must sit for the Bar examination in the particular state where they want to practice law.

In contrast, an Attorney in most of Latin America can obtain a law degree after a five-year program of study (Licenciatura en Derecho). Depending on the country some may require a bar examination to practice while others will not.

The US legal education relies more on the Socratic method of teaching which is analyzing case law while the study of law in Latin America is centered more around the teachings of the Civil Codes that make up the laws of each particular country.

2. The use of Case Law versus the use of Codes

As a common law jurisdiction, the United States judicial system was created based on the use of case law precedent as the foundation for the creation of law. Despite this, the United States now relies heavily on statutes, codes, and regulations at both the Federal and the State levels. In Latin America, the practice of law is based on the legal codes which means an Attorney first looks at the particular Code to determine a case and then after that will rely on high court decisions known as Jurisprudencia or treatises known as Doctrina.

3. The Role of the Lawyer in Litigation

In Latin America, it is generally the judge or panel of judges that regulates the court of litigation. They will investigate the facts; question witnesses and name experts. On the other hand, in the United States, the lawyer is the individual in charge of conducting the case investigation, questioning witnesses, and hiring experts to support their case. This procedure in the United States is known as “discovery” and it gives the lawyer much more authority to gather facts and evidence than a comparable lawyer would have under the civil law system in Latin America.

4. The Role of the Notary Public

In the United States, the role of the Notary is as ministerial officers in that their role is limited to identifying document signers, taking acknowledgments, and administering oaths. While Civil Law Notaries have training similar to a Lawyer and they are authorized to draft legal documents and authenticate and advise all parties that appear before them.

5. No Jury Trial.

In the United States, there is the custom of Jury Trials as established by the 7th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The role of the jury is to act as the finder of fact, while the judge is seen as having the sole responsibility of interpreting the appropriate law and instructing the jury accordingly. In Latin America, this English tradition of jury trials is not prevalent. Instead, in the Latin American system, it is the role of a Judge or panel of judges to act as the finders of fact.

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