Professor Berta Esperanza Hernández-Truyol is a special source of information for all things regarding international and human rights law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.
Born in Cuba and raised in Puerto Rico, she was surrounded by an environment that fostered an interest in international law from an early age. Her mother, a lawyer and a diplomat, worked in the State Department in Cuba before the revolution.
Hernández-Truyol said she entered college initially wanting to do chemical engineering.
“[However,] I ended up getting degrees in Sociology and Psychology, which I think are great for law,” she said.
While she was at Albany Law School of Union University, Professor Hernández-Truyol did not experience an embracing international environment. She was the only Latina among a group including one other Latino student and one Asian student. The gender distribution of the class also lacked diversity – she was one of 30 women in a class of 270.
“When I went to law school I always had teaching in the back of my mind,” she said. “I thought to myself that you have to practice before you teach.”
The professor emphasized the fact that international law needs to always be in consideration.
“You should not go into any field, into any kind of practice, without having an understanding of how international law is made,” Hernández-Truyol said. “We should not send one student out of Levin College of Law without understanding what a treaty is. It will come up in whatever law you are practicing.”
She mentioned a former student who had sought her advice on a legal matter regarding a client working with her father, a criminal law defense attorney in Orlando.
“International law is everywhere,” Hernández-Truyol said. “It is not always completely seen, but it is always present.”
For those students who are interested in pursuing a career in international law, she suggested getting involved in basic international law courses, international law seminars and classes with the visiting professors from Italy and Germany.
“Depending on your interest, you can craft a program that will help you practice international law in whatever sphere you are interested in,” Hernández-Truyol said. “No field of law is untouched by international law.”
The field of international law can lead students to endless opportunities.
“You can do international law in law firms, with the government, with NGOs, at the treaty-making level, or you can work with policy,” she said.
Professor Hernández-Truyol outlined a few of the skills that every law student is expected to walk away from law school with (e.g., research, writing, and critical thinking skills). However, there are unique skills required to achieve success with a career in international law.
“There has to be a huge level of cultural sensitivity and understanding. Different actions mean different things in different cultures,” she said. “You need to be very sensitive to the cultural framework within which you’re operating. You need to have cultural competence. You need to understand what is appropriate because you need to gain trust.”
Professor Hernández-Truyol has traveled around the world to discuss her expertise in international and human rights. She also worked on a book with an Italian law professor, with chapters written in Italian, Spanish and French. She will be flying to Geneva Oct. 18 following an invitation to collaborate on a upcoming book.
“International law is part of our law. International law is the supreme law of the land,” the professor said. “We should all learn about this significant field of law—learn and be excited about it.”