Inaugural cohort of new Master of Legal Studies degree program set to graduate

Victor Ochoa grew up in the mountains of central Peru, the second youngest of 14 children born to a mother who became widowed early in his childhood.

His family had little. But Ochoa’s mom, who sacrificed much to keep food on the table and clothes on her children’s backs, always emphasized one route to help her son escape the difficult circumstances into which he’d been born: pursuing an education.

“She is an extraordinary woman who with little education has taught me that the only way out from poverty was education,” said Ochoa, who today is a student in the inaugural cohort of the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law’s Master of Legal Studies program.

Ochoa took his mother’s words to heart and started an engineering program in Peru, from which he graduated in 2005. Soon after, he traveled to the U.S., where he enrolled at an English as a Second Language (ESL) program for two years. Through that experience, he found his calling. 

He opened an ESL school in Utah, an endeavor that turned him into an administrator navigating all facets of the business, from accreditation to supporting international students trying to wade through the process of immigration.

As Ochoa built his business, he longed for a better understanding of the U.S. legal system and legal principles that he bumped into in everyday work life. As an entrepreneur, he saw a law degree as a useful tool, but he didn’t want to become a lawyer.

When he learned about a new program at the College of Law that would provide legal framework in a structure outside of a traditional law degree, he was intrigued. Ochoa enrolled in the Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree program in the fall of 2018, making history as part of the first cohort to take courses in the newly launched program.

Along with classmates, Ochoa attended intensive courses every other Friday and Saturday at the law school, while also working full-time at his business.

“I have been learning a lot. My two favorite classes have been ‘Lawsuits and Litigation’ and ‘Contracts in the Modern Economy.’ The program itself has been giving me more confidence in my own business. I am more aware of the law and I make sure that my clients and I are complying with it. The MLS program has helped me to have the knowledge I need to continue growing my business and to prepare for new opportunities in the future,” said Ochoa.

On May 10, Ochoa will be among the first cohort of students to graduate from the U with a new MLS degree.  The ceremony, which is open to the public, will be at 10 a.m. at Kingsbury Hall on the U’s campus.

Ochoa said he has appreciated the program’s flexible schedule, with classes held every other weekend. He and his wife welcomed a new baby the week the program started, to add another new beginning into the mix.

“Everybody in the program has made my journey easier than I expected. My cohort is very supportive, they are all willing to help each other and support you with anything. The staff, professors, the cohort, and especially my wife and my newborn have contributed to making this program more balanced in my life,” he said.

Ochoa said he’s grateful to graduate with a better understanding of the legal system that he can take back to his language school. He dreams of one day possibly returning to Peru to work for the government and plans to be actively involved in his community.

“I believe you can contribute to your community in a better way, through the education and experiences you have been exposed to,” said Ochoa.  “I have been doing my best to set a good example, since I am from Peru and the only first-generation immigrant in my family and in the MLS program.”