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Michelle Rafenomanjato LL.M.’19 is Building Her IP Career on Her Syracuse Training—And Missing the Snow!

It’s a long, long way from Madagascar to Syracuse, NY, but intellectual property lawyer Noro Michelle Rafenomanjato LL.M. ’19 is living proof—both in her cosmopolitan education and her burgeoning internationally focused career— that in a global economy, distance is just another number.

Since graduating from Syracuse—where she pursued a master of laws degree as a Fulbright scholar—Michelle has been appointed Director of the Intellectual Property (IP) Department
of Madagascar Conseil International (MCI). A Malagasy law firm founded in 1999, MCI advises international clients on legal and tax strategies when doing business in the French-speaking island nation.

“The work I perform is diverse: clearance searches, drafting and filing applications, IP
due diligence, and legal advice on trademarks, designs, and patents,” explains Rafenomanjato, who also holds a master’s in public international law from Versailles University, France, and a Ph.D. in international law from Zhongnan University, China. “I also attend international conferences, the most recent one being the January 2020 Innovation & IP Forum and Awards in Paris.”

In addition to being in charge of the IP department, Rafenomanjato works with the rest of her team on business law-related issues— such as arbitration and contracts—and, given her language skills, on cases involving English- speaking clients.

How has your training at the College of Law helped you in your position at MCI?
My training has helped me deepen my knowledge of IP law, and it complements the legal training I did in France and China.

First, my courses—in legal writing, contracts, international business transactions, and business associations—provided me with a solid legal background in business law and legal English. As a lawyer working with international law firms and English-speaking clients, I now feel more confident communicating in English, both orally and in writing.

I also took IP and trademark courses with professors Shubha Gosh and Howard Leib. I truly appreciate Professor Ghosh’s cross-cutting approach and his close-to-real-life assignments. Plus, I benefitted from Professor Leib’s out-of- the-box thinking and practical tips from his 35 years of experience as a trademark attorney. Apart from the courses, conferences with IP practitioners organized by the Oce of Career Services and the Intellectual Property Law Society were a unique opportunity to meet like-minded people and build a network of IP experts. This comes in handy as my firm’s IP department wants to increase collaborations.

My courses—in legal writing, contracts, international business transactions, and business associations—provided me with a solid legal background in business law and legal English.

How would you compare US and Malagasy law?
One difference lies in our respective legal systems. The United States is a common
law country with a federal system, whereas Madagascar is a civil law country with a unitary system. Thus, the US has 51 legal systems—the federal system and the legal systems of 50 states—whereas Madagascar only has one legal system. Plus, unlike the US, Madagascar has courts that handle public law-related cases and courts that handle private law-related cases. Despite those differences, there are common legal concepts that are encountered in both legal systems: privity of contract, force majeure, and due process, to name a few.

What is your fondest memory of studying at the College of Law?
My fondest memory was an event called the United Nations of Food. Inspired by an eponymous website, the event was initiated by Aili Obandja LL.M.’19, our class senator, and organized by LL.M. students. Each student brought typical foods from his or her country.
I brought rice, greens stew, beef strips (kitoza) and peanut sauce (rougail). Our senator made a flag for each country, which made each student beam with pride. Professors and J.D. students also attended. It was an original way to celebrate our differences, share our uniqueness, and allow people to discover new cultures.

What do you miss most about Central New York?
Although this may sound cliché, I miss the snow. Since we do not have snow in Madagascar, it was always mesmerizing to watch it fall and to admire the already breathtaking campus covered with a white blanket. Living in a snow globe for six months was an unforgettable experience. I also miss Christmas in Skaneateles, NY—a snowy village, with people dressing as characters from A Christmas Carol.

What advice do you have for a foreign lawyer who wishes to study the law in the United States?
Studying in a language different from yours, in a country with a culture different from yours, or in a country with a legal system that is different from yours can be quite daunting and perhaps disorienting at times. Preparation is key. The more prepared you are, the better. Before you leave, gather as much information as you can about academic and non-academic expectations and requirements.

Once you are in the United States, build and rely upon a strong support network, including administrative and teaching staff, classmates, and associations. I counted on Assistant Dean of International Programs Andrew Horsfall L’10 and International Programs Academic Coordinator Kate Shannon, my family and friends, my classmates, the Fulbright family, Orange Orators members, the Success Saturday team, MCI colleagues, as well as the US Embassy in Madagascar. This support network made Syracuse and the US feel like home, and I must acknowledge that those people played a tremendous role in helping me adjust, succeed, and grow as a professional.