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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

The 1917 constitution provides for a federal republic with powers separated into independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. In practice, the executive is the dominant branch, with power vested in the president, who promulgates and executes the laws of the Congress. The president also legislates by executive decree in certain economic and financial fields, using powers delegated from the Congress. The president is elected by universal adult suffrage for a 6-year term and may not hold office a second time. There is no vice president; in the event of the removal or death of the president, a provisional president is elected by the Congress.

The Congress is composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Consecutive re-election is prohibited. Senators are elected to 6-year terms. Implementing constitutional changes made in 1996, for the first time in the July 1997 elections, 32 of the 128 Senate seats were proportionally elected from national party lists. The 32 senators elected in 1997 will only serve 3-year terms, in order to bring the entire Senate back into the same cycle in the year 2000. Deputies serve 3-year terms. In the lower chamber, 300 deputies are directly elected to represent single-member districts, and 200 are selected by a modified form of proportional representation from five electoral regions created for this purpose across the country. The 200 proportional representation seats were created to help smaller parties gain access to the Chamber.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments (all sites in Spanish)

The Mexican judiciary is divided into federal and state court systems, with federal courts having jurisdiction over most civil cases and those involving major felonies. Under the constitution, trial and sentencing must be completed within 12 months of arrest for crimes that would carry at least a 2-year sentence. Practice often does not meet this requirement. Trial is by judge, not jury, in most criminal cases. Defendants have a right to counsel, and public defenders are available. Other rights include defense against self-incrimination, the right to confront one's accusers, and the right to a public trial. Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession

Law Schools (all sites in Spanish)

Before attending law school, Mexican students must have obtained a university diploma as Bachilleres (such diploma is granted by Preparatory Schools), either in Liberal Arts or in Sciences. Then, the license to practice the legal profession as abogado is granted by the universities (in professional schools usually known either formally or informally as facultades). Someone with a license to practice as lawyer is known as licenciado.

The professional program of a law school, Facultad de Derecho, usually takes between four or five years in which the student is trained in core areas of positive law, such as the fields covered by the Civil Code (persons, family, goods and real rights, successions, obligations and contracts), commercial law, criminal law, constitutional law procedural law, and private and public international law. The particular program concerned may include other legal areas such as courses -- mandatory or elective -- on legal fields that traditionally have been considered relevant but not a part of the core area of legal education, such as courses on history and philosophy of law, and even courses in other disciplines (mostly in social sciences). The content and length covered by these courses and how they are mixed in each program may vary significantly from school to school and there are programs that can be label as very traditional and some others that may be considered as very liberal. (Please note that I am using the terms conservative and liberal in their literal meaning and not with the meaning usually used in the U.S)

One of the most conservative and traditional programs is the one of the Escuela Libre de Derecho in Mexico City. This law school was founded in 1912 after a group of professors and students separated form the National Law School, now the Law School of the of the National University. The Escuela Libre de Derecho is one of the few schools in Mexico that still organize their programs by academic years, as opposed to academic semesters or tetra-months, and is probably the only law school in Mexico in which the test for every single course is oral and presented before a panel of three members (tribunal) that use a grading system that is unique to that law school and based solely in the subjective evaluation of the members of the tribunal. Escuela Libre de Derecho not only is the alma mater of many of the finest lawyers in Mexico, but also is well recognized for educating lawyers that not only are intellectually solid, but also learn to master the law. However, as far as I know, no other law school in all Mexico has followed the model of the Escuela Libre de Derecho.

With the exception of Escuel Libre de Derecho, until the 1950's all Mexican law schools were under the umbrella of the public sector, either state or federal, when some private universities started their own law schools. From the 1950's until the 1990's one could distinguish two major types of professional law programs in Mexico. On one side, one could identify the law schools in public universities that in most cases followed the pattern of the Law School of the National University, while in the other hand one could see private law schools developing and implementing important modifications to the National University pattern. During the 1990's the Law School of the National University decided to amend its professional law program. Once the paradigm was broken other public universities also decided to amend their professional law programs, but this time the standard of the National University was not necessarily followed and each school brought different ideas into their new programs.

Today, from the traditional and conservative standards from Escuela Libre de Derecho, one can move to the other extreme of the spectrum and find other professional law programs that reflect a wide range of different perspectives on how legal education should be approached.

The universities sponsoring law schools grant professional degrees in law (ttulos profesionales), but each law school may give a different name to the professional degree in law, usually abogado, licenciado en derecho, licenciado en ciencias jurdicas, or licenciado en ciencias jurdicas y sociales. Each ttulo professional is validated under the authority granted to the university concerned by government permits.

It is hard to say exactly how many law schools there are in Mexico at the moment, but I might note that in Mexico City there are at least 30 law schools, in Monterrey at least 8, in Guadalajara I know of at least 4. There are many other law schools in mid-size cities around the country. For more information on specific law schools and the programs they have for the professional education of lawyers and for post-graduate studies, you may refer to my Web page on Law Schools and the Law Programs in Mexico

Carlos A. Gabuardi
JURIST Mexico Correspondent

J. Salazar y Cia.
Study Law in Mexico

Summer Study Abroad

Correspondents' Reports JURIST's Mexico Correspondent is Carlos A. Gabuardi, J. Salazar y Cia, Monterrey; adjunct, Department of Law, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Advanced Studies; formerly Head of the Law Department and Professor of Law, Universidad de Monterrey.


  • Mexican Law (Professor Jorge Vargas, University of San Diego School of Law)

Carlos A. Gabuardi
J. Salazar y Cia.
Monterrey; adjunct, Department of Law, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Advanced Studies