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Spencer’s Excellent Adventure to Mexico

Spencer McMullen
Spencer McMullen
Robert Nelson Co-Founder of Expats In Mexico
Credit: Robert Nelson

Our series on entrepreneurs continues this month by getting to know Spencer McMullen – our blogger on legal matters. In our article,  “Expat Entrepreneurs in Mexico: From Real Estate to Law Along the Lake,” we follow Spencer’s excellent adventure to Mexico, from the beaches of Santa Barbara to lakefront in Chapala.

Spencer enrolled in business and pre-law at the University of California Santa Barbara in the late eighties but dropped out after three years to work in the fast-growing California mortgage business, get married and have two children.

When he got his broker’s license in 1999 he opened his own business – 1st City Savings and Quality Mortgage in Santa Barbara – and added an escrow service and employees.

Life was good, but in 2005 Spencer looked into the future and did not like what he saw. “I was foreseeing the crash, that’s why I decided to buy in Chapala,” he said. “I made an offer on a place and took possession in 2006. Everyone made fun of me and thought I was crazy for moving to Mexico. But I just couldn’t see how the real estate market could continue to climb.”

He bought a 4,000 square foot building that was the prior location of the courthouse in Chapala. It had plenty of room to live and conduct business, but he continued to spend most of his time running his business in Santa Barbara. When the real estate business finally collapsed in 2008, McMullen made Mexico his permanent home and began studying law at the Universidad America Latina in Guadalajara.

“It was definitely tough at the beginning even though I spoke Spanish,” he said. “You have to know legal Spanish to study law, which is a bit different. I was able to do most of my work online and in-person on Saturdays. I started an internship at the courthouse in Chapala in 2010, received my law degree in 2011 and opened Chapala Law that same year.”

He has both state and federal licenses and also is a court translator. His specialty is legal issues for foreigners and dealing with U.S. documents.

“My business is translation of documents, contracts, obtaining birth certificates and certifications of documents from foreign governments,” he said. “I also do a lot of translations in office deals as well probate and immigration work. Not much actual court work anymore.”

Divorced when he moved full-time to Mexico in 2008, McMullen met his wife, 39-year-old Cecilia, while they were both at a class for legal translators in Guadalajara.

“Her practice is much different than mine,” he said. “She does more corporate law, like preparing corporate documents and contracts.”

They both continue to take post-graduate specialty courses to broaden their portfolios. McMullen added notarial law, contracts, civil procedure, extraordinary constitutional writs, administrative law, corporate law and municipal law.

Business has been good for the couple. In addition to the Chapala office, they now have an office in Guadalajara, where they live with their two children most of the time.

If you have an interesting entrepreneurial story to tell, let us know by contacting us at info@expatsinmexico.com.