Global Conversations with Rafael Porrata-Doria, Jr., Professor of Law, Temple University

Professor Porrata-Doria graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 and received his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1977. He also holds an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, Professor Porrata-Doria practiced law in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Miami, Florida. Professor Porrata-Doria has also served on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations throughout the nation. He is Chair of the Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises, a Philadelphia economic development organization, and past Chair of the Association of Yale Alumni, Yale University’s national alumni organization. He is a 2003 recipient of the Yale Medal, the University’s highest alumni award.

Interview conducted by Najah Springer on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, and your profession?

I am a Native of San Juan, Puerto Rico. I came to Philadelphia for college at the University of Pennsylvania, where I received both my Bachelors and Masters degrees. Following my time at U Penn, I went to Yale Law School, and after law school, I practiced law in both Philadelphia and Miami. Afterwards, I came to Temple University as an assistant law professor in 1983 and have been here since. I teach various classes in corporate law, security and international law, but most of the things I have done in my scholarship is comparative law work.

How was the Puerto Rican Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation founded, and what do they do?

Generally in Europe, and particularly in Spain, there is a tradition of societies that do various types of academic and cultural work. Spain has both the Academy of Language and the Royal Academy, and in these societies are groups of scholars that study, analyze, and make suggestions for the betterment of the law and the legal system. They’re fairly selective and limited entity, in example the Royal Academy of Jurisprudence is limited to 32 or 34 members, who must be native to the land. These societies have created 8-10 similar organizations around Latin America. The Puerto Rican Academy was founded in the early 1980s.

During the summer of 1986, I worked on a project with them to reform and modernize Puerto Rican corporations. It is a rather small and distinguished group of about 14-16 members; they are judges, practicing lawyers, and law professors. Three years ago, they decided to create a second class of members to the organization – the Corresponding Members – who may otherwise meet the requirements of membership, but who are not residents. They decided to look at the Puerto Rican diaspora for individuals who have a record in scholarship that can connect with the work of the academy. There are now 8 corresponding members, residing in the USA, New Zealand, and elsewhere. They all share common scholarship in areas of comparative law, or have law degrees in both Puerto Rico and USA, thus very interested in comparative law.

How were you inducted into the Puerto Rican Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation and what type of work do you do as a member?

I was surprised when I got the phone call that I had been selected. I think it was from my previous work with the organization. This organization does really good work and they are very good group of people. I have been asked to participate in a project, where the academy had essentially been collecting very significant books and articles about legal scholarship that were written in Puerto Rico by Puerto Ricans; the oldest existing book we’ve collected was from the 1860s. We have writings from lawyers and legal scholars during the 19th and 20th centuries from when Puerto Rico had a civil law system similar to Spain, to the civil law system of the similar to The United States of America. A lot of this is detective work, as a number of these books are out of print, or had a very limited print run, thus making them harder to find. We are going to get print works together, analyze it, add a description of evaluation on particular work, and make it available to both scholars and students. As a matter of fact, I’ve been asked to make a scholarly presentation at the end of this year. Being a member of this organization is an honor, but it does make you work. The work we do is fascinating. We see the law and legal system and how particular societies decide to deal with problems or relationships amongst its members.

How did you get interested in teaching law?

It was a very long time ago when a lot of things were very different. Temple University had been looking for someone to teach corporations, contracts, and security, all of which I have experience in. I had no prior experience in teaching, but I decided to give it a try for a few years. Teaching is a lot of fun and it’s also very rewarding, and after some years of teaching I asked myself why would I leave this position when it’s a very good job. I’m not someone who planned directly out of law school to be law professor, ironically there are a lot of people from my law school class that wound up teaching law, perhaps it was a subliminal message for all of us to become teachers.

What advice would do you have for anyone interested in having a profession in international law or policy?

Ask yourself what you should do before going to law school, and find out about the rest of the world – by having lived or traveled somewhere else you gain a new insight of the world. A lot of students that go to law school have not had any kind of experience in the international world at all. I would really encourage law students and individuals thinking about going to law school to consider international law as well. For example, I think that if you want to be an international lawyer, it helps to understand what the rest of the world is like. You can gain international experience by working for the UN, US government, or a small organization. There are so many careers you can follow with a degree in international law. If you have some interest or experience in global affairs (broadly defined), have an interest in other languages or cultures you should very well consider international law. There is going to be a bigger need over the years for international lawyers, 30 years ago in Philadelphia there were very few law firms that were doing business abroad or had foreign clients. There were very few Philadelphia clients selling abroad ,and 35 years later, the fact that we have been a designated Global Heritage City points out the work that organizations such as Global Philadelphia has been doing and how much more globalized Philadelphia has been over the past 30 years. If you were to ask a foreign person about the city of Philadelphia they would say it is a global city.