Profiles in Practice: Ofelia Ponce

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Not one nationality, or culture, can label Ofelia Ponce. Born and raised in Honduras, Ponce describes herself as “a global citizen.” That is because she embraces all cultures from her multinational experience working throughout the globe, as well as her American legal education. Ponce uses her background and personal encounters to shape her role as a legal professional. 

Ponce began her legal career in Honduras. She first worked on humanitarian and human rights issues at the Honduran Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the head of investment, Ponce led a group of seven people to work on foreign investments. This was the start of her legal career where she worked on multinational issues. 

The position at the ministry was an opportunity to work with attorneys across the world. She traveled and met attorneys from around Europe, South America, and the United States. From this experience, she felt law school would “fulfill an inner purpose” to connect and help others. She is passionate about helping other people, and law school provided an excellent way to understand and amend the laws surrounding key humanitarian issues. Although she was uncertain if she would move to the United States or stay in Honduras for her career, she was confident she would attend law school.

After graduating from high school in Honduras, Ponce relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for her bachelor’s degree. She obtained a degree in international relations and political science. Later, her master’s degree in conflict resolution and peace studies complemented her personal experience with international relations. 

In 2010, Ponce moved back to Honduras and obtained her law degree. Her study focused on international and commercial law. Unlike the United States, Honduras allows early entry to law school without a bachelor’s degree. Many law students in Honduras attend law school after obtaining their high school equivalent education. This did not deter Ponce as she enrolled and completed her degree enriched with knowledge and experience from her international work at the ministry. She was not fazed by returning to school after working as a professional. She successfully obtained her law degree while working at the ministry. 

In 2018, she relocated to Minnesota for her Master of Laws (L.L.M.) degree at Mitchell Hamline Law School. As an attorney from Honduras, she independently navigated the differences between common and statutory law. Honduras law concerns statutory law, where there is almost always a right or wrong answer. Questions such as, “What is a holding?” puzzled Ponce upon her first studies in the United States. Common law requires continuous legal research and analysis, a skill Ponce picked up on right away. She was the only L.L.M. student in her graduating class.

Ponce now uses her independent research and analysis skills as a legal professional at the Ceiba Fôrte Law Firm. Her expansive international legal education provides for a well-rounded analysis and interpretation on complex corporate matters. She finds her work is all about “the best research you can do,” because you “never know if you have a right answer.” 

While she is not licensed to practice law in Minnesota, Ponce works closely with her husband Inti Martínez-Alemán at Ceiba Fôrte. Within this past year, Ponce has supported efforts to provide a pathway for qualified foreign-educated graduates to seek admission to the bar in Minnesota. In December of 2019, the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners received public comments on this potential avenue to licensure. It then held an additional public meeting on February 5, 2020, for further discussion. Ponce was one of the petitioners to initiate this discussion with the State Board. 

In addition to her regular work at Ceiba Fôrte Law Firm, Ponce is working on opening and welcoming the Minnesota legal community to foreign-educated lawyers. She also seeks opportunities to work with all L.L.M. students that hold international law licenses.

Not only does Ponce commit to expanding the legal community, but she dedicates her time and leadership to the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association (MHBA). You can find Ponce working diligently on multiple community legal events and opportunities through the MHBA. Ponce is currently working with Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES) and Global Women Rights on community partnerships.

Ponce was also a mentor for CLUES’s Youth in Action Program. This program supports and guides Hispanic high school students as they work to achieve their personal and professional goals through group activities such as monthly coaching, academic support, college preparation, and educational session projects. 

Most recently, Ponce has been serving on the Alumni Board of Governors at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. As a member of the board, she will be organizing and overseeing alumni events. 

Ponce continues to lead in the legal community. From her role at the head of investment at the Honduras Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to studying international relations, and now encouraging foreign-educated lawyers to seek licensure in Minnesota, Ponce continues to find ways to enrich the Minnesota community with international leadership. She is a “global citizen” with global ideas.

by Amy Byrne

abyrne@aafedt.com

Amy Byrne is an associate with the firm Aafedt, Forde, Gray, Monson & Hager. She represents employers, insurers, self-insured employers, and third-party administrators throughout the state of Minnesota in all aspects for workers’ compensation  and civil litigation.  Oral advocacy is one of Byrne’s strengths for clients and she has a detailed and personable approach to her practice, examining legal intricacies that can help resolve client issues at the forefront.