PUBLISHED:May 08, 2023

Duke Law graduating first father and daughter LLM students


A father and daughter from Brazil traveled to Duke to pursue an LLM degree, enriching their career outlooks and embracing an extended community

lorena and andre pinelli llm class of 2023

This year, a father and his daughter will graduate from the LLM Master of Laws program–a first for the Law School. André Pinelli LLM ’23 and Lorena Carvalho Pinelli LLM ’23, both lawyers from Brazil, said having their family with them while pursuing their degrees was an integral part of their law school experience.

“I feel at home. It’s just at a different address. But it’s home,” André said. “I could not do it without my family here.” Lorena added: “I have my safety net here. I brought it with me.”

André’s wife, Helê, and his son and Lorena’s brother, 12-year-old Arthur, accompanied them as they traveled to North Carolina to pursue an LLM degree at Duke Law. Far from their family home in Belo Horizonte, the sixth-largest city in Brazil located in the southeastern part of the country, the Pinellis made a home for themselves in the town of Cary.

André and Lorena say they discovered they’d been pondering an LLM degree separately when the pandemic brought Lorena back home from practicing law in Rio. Going to Duke Law not only enriched their skills and goals as legal professionals, but also found them opening their home to fellow LLM and JD students. 

“I think being a family here together, we’ve almost become a support for other students,” Lorena said. “We had them over here for Christmas, for Thanksgiving, and other occasions. It’s just great to have your support here.”

A decision to pursue the LLM together

In 2019, André, a self-employed lawyer with more than 25 years experience practicing law in Brazil, started thinking about going abroad to pursue an LLM degree. In preparation, he took the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam in April 2020, but did not pass. About this time, the pandemic hit and Lorena, who was working in anti-corruption and compliance law in Rio, rejoined her family in Belo Horizonte.

“I think it was probably May when I saw my father studying for the TOEFL,” Lorena said. “I asked about it and he said it was because he was thinking about doing an LLM in the U.S. and at the time I was like, ‘Okay, that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. It would be perfect for us to go together.’”

Lorena had heard about the LLM degree years earlier, while attending an event during her first semester of law school. The idea piqued her curiosity and stayed with Lorena through completing her law degree. During that time, she was further incentivized by two colleagues with LLMs who she met on an internship.

Lorena said, “While I was in law school, I went to LLM fairs in Brazil, in São Paulo, in Rio, to see all of the universities, the programs, how it worked, to which places I could go and take the bar.”

She joined her father in studying for the TOEFL and the two started exploring law schools in the U.S. They looked at top-ranked schools, focusing on smaller class sizes, opportunities to interact with JD students, a friendly community, and an agreeable climate.

André said, “My wife hates the cold, so ‘happy wife, happy life.’” Though well-traveled, André wanted to make sure his entire family would be comfortable making the move abroad. He was also ready to make a switch from big city life. To that end, André and Lorena talked to Duke Law alums in Brazil who spoke highly of Durham’s mid-sized city charm, friendly nature, and moderate climate.

lorena and andre pinelli llm class of 2023
Marcy's Garden at Duke Law

Shared classes and new career interests

Lorena and her mother arrived in Durham in late June and moved into their house in Cary on July 1. André and Arthur followed later that month, with LLM Orientation starting August 11. Fall semester, they attended four classes together: U.S. Legal Analysis, Research and Writing for International Students, Startup Law: Legal Considerations for Entrepreneurs and Counsel, Distinctive Aspects of U.S. Law, and Ethics and the Law of Lawyering.

“Although we had a lot of classes together, I think, for those, we never studied together,” Lorena said, “But then [spring] semester, we had Immigration Law. The only class we had together. We don’t sit down and study, but we always talk about the readings for that class because it’s at 10:55 a.m. and one of us is on-call.”

In particular, Lorena enjoyed Corporate Crime taught by Samuel Buell, the Bernard M. Fishman Professor of Law, and Government Enforcement and Global Corporate Compliance taught by Distinguished Fellow Karen A. Popp, and intended to continue working on anti-corruption cases in Brazil after graduation. But the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Law taught by Clinical Professor Kate Evans started to change her mind. Her growing interest is one shared by her father. 

“I think my biggest impact was on [Startup Law] because it gave me a very good idea of how business works here in America, at least from a startup point of view,” said André, who is considering starting his own immigration law practice related to persons emigrating from Brazil to the U.S. Classes on international taxation and tax policy further complemented his career aspirations, André said.

After graduation, André will be working for a year as a lawyer at an immigration practice in Raleigh. Lorena will take the bar exam in July in preparation for a remote position practicing immigration law for a law firm in Miami.

lorena and andre pinelli llm class of 2023
Duke Law 2023 Class Photo event

Embracing their extended family

Though they moved 4,000 miles away from their home in Brazil, the Pinellis said they’ve found many new friends among their classmates at Duke Law and connected with fellow Brazilians throughout the RTP area. Just weeks before graduation, the Pinellis had invited more than a dozen students to join them and about 30 other guests to celebrate André and his wife’s birthdays.

Lorena said, “We like having people over. We always did that back in Brazil, so it’s great that we continue to do that here.” She added: “My friends really like my father. I’ve had friends over many times and he’s joined us.”

Being among a close-knit LLM community means Lorena can even get some extra help when she needs to get in touch with her father while at school. “I send a message on WhatsApp asking ‘You guys know where my father is?’ And one time, I don’t remember who, someone sent back a picture of the two of them having a beer at the [Devil's Krafthouse] at Duke,” she said.

André added: “I look at the opportunity to be back at school after so long with my daughter as a blessing.” 

While keeping up with their classwork, André and Lorena have enjoyed going on family road trips throughout N.C., with visits to Asheville, Pinehurst, and Hilton Head. They’ve traveled to Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., Washington, D.C., and New York City, too. André says he’s looking forward to squeezing in a bit more travel after graduation and before starting work in Raleigh.