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Brazilian lawyer, 21, will become the youngest admitted to the New York State Bar in decades

Brazilian lawyer, 21, will become the youngest admitted to the New York State Bar in decades after he graduated from law school in Brazil and won a case in their Supreme Court while just a TEEN

  • Mateus Costa-Ribeiro will become the youngest person in recent decades to be admitted as a member of the New York state bar next Thursday 
  • Costa-Ribeiro, who grew up in Brasilia, graduated from Brazil’s law school at 18 before he argued a case before the country’s highest court
  • He then got accepted into Harvard Law School’s one-year master of laws program 
  • When he was 19, Costa-Ribeiro petitioned the New York State Court of Appeals and was granted a waiver to take the bar exam – which he passed 
  • Costa-Ribeiro first took an interest in the legal profession when he was 13 and his sister was taking her law-school admissions exam
  • Their father, also a lawyer, convinced the teen to take the test too 

A 21-year-old from Brazil will become the youngest person in recent decades to be admitted as a member of the New York state bar next Thursday.

Mateus Costa-Ribeiro, who grew up in Brasilia, has already secured quite the list of accomplishments – graduating from Brazil’s law school at 18 before he argued a case before the country’s highest court. 

‘The way you deal with a client, the way you explain a tough decision that came from a judge, the way you tell someone that he or she is going to jail, you need some kind of life backbone to be able to manage these situations,’ Costa-Ribeiro said to the Wall Street Journal when describing the maturity he brings to the courtroom.

Costa-Ribeiro first took an interest in the legal profession when he was 13 and his sister was taking her law-school admissions exam. Their father, also a lawyer, convinced the teen to take the test too. 

Mateus Costa-Ribeiro will become the youngest person in recent decades to be admitted as a member of the New York state bar next Thursday

Costa-Ribeiro, who grew up in Brasilia, has already secured quite the list of accomplishments - graduating from Brazil's law school at 18 before he argued a case before the country's highest court

Costa-Ribeiro, who grew up in Brasilia, has already secured quite the list of accomplishments – graduating from Brazil’s law school at 18 before he argued a case before the country’s highest court

The teen passed the test but still had three more years of high school to complete, ultimately petitioning a judge so that he could take the final high-school exams at just 14.  

Costa-Ribeiro graduated from law school just four years later. He won the case in Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court soon after at just 18, successfully arguing that a state’s law pertaining to personal searches of employees was unconstitutional because labor laws in the country are set by the federal government. 

‘Everything with him was very, very precocious,’ said Luis Roberto Barroso, a justice on the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil. The judge described the sight of the teen in the court room as highly unusual.

‘He showed empathy and that’s a talent different from knowledge,’ Roberto Barroso added.

Costa-Ribeiro then got accepted into Harvard Law School’s one-year master of laws program.  

Costa-Riberio got accepted into Harvard Law School's one-year master of laws program

Costa-Riberio got accepted into Harvard Law School’s one-year master of laws program

When he was 19, Costa-Ribeiro petitioned the New York State Court of Appeals and was granted a waiver to take the bar exam - which he passed

When he was 19, Costa-Ribeiro petitioned the New York State Court of Appeals and was granted a waiver to take the bar exam – which he passed

And while he was forced to missed out on some of the more social events, Costa-Ribeiro was steadfast and determined to make the most of his experience.   

‘I never wanted to be defined by my age,’ he said.

For Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor who supervises Costa-Ribeiro’s thesis, said he connected with his student’s story because his own grandfather wasn’t allowed to take the bar exam when he graduated from law school at the age of 20 before World War II.   

Feldman shared Costa-Ribeiro’s sentiment that the student’s maturity has helped pushed him forward.   

‘I have had some other students who were also child geniuses,’ he said. ‘It hasn’t always worked out well for them. There are some cases where the greater maturity would have been really far superior and helpful before they came into the law.’

Costa-Ribeiro at Milbank LLP, a major firm in New York that offered him a job at just 19

Costa-Ribeiro at Milbank LLP, a major firm in New York that offered him a job at just 19

When he was 19, Costa-Ribeiro learned that he needed to be 21 in order to take the bar exam. He had a job waiting for him at Milbank LLP, a major firm in New York, and was worried that he wouldn’t be able to get his career going if he couldn’t take the exam. 

So Costa-Ribeiro petitioned the New York State Court of Appeals and was granted a waiver to take the exam – which he passed.

McAlary, executive director at the New York State Board of Law Examiners, said that Costa-Ribeiro was one of the youngest to ever take the exam. He did note, however, that when the bar exam started more than a century ago, prospective lawyers did not have to go to law school.  

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