Boston University School of Law

Up Close and Personal:
BU Law Professor Kevin Outterson Leads Groups Through Rio de Janeiro

Favelas, more commonly known as slums or shantytowns, account for roughly 20 percent of the homes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second largest city. With the population of favelas growing faster than that of Brazil as a whole, the number of inhabitants is staggering, with one in every four Rio residents calling a favala home. Taking into account the sheer size of the situation, the need to expose outsiders to the community is crucial, and it's high on the list of Professor Kevin Outterson's priorities.

One of the newest additions to the BU Law faculty, Outterson began leading groups of students through favelas and other parts of Brazil over four years ago. Starting his "poorism" study abroad program at West Virginia University, Outterson worked with touring company "Be a Local" to combine up-close tours through the gang and crime-infested favelas with education at the local university, Getulio Vargas Foundation Rio de Janeiro (FGV).

"FGV is one of Brazil's elite universities," Outterson said. "FGV Law is the only top law school which has adopted the common law/case method of teaching."

While placing an emphasis on exposing the world to the reality of poverty-stricken areas, Outterson was also quick to point out the importance of showing future lawyers a side of life they may never witness otherwise.

"Awareness is important because lawyers are in the position where they can do something," said Outterson.

In a recent interview with Newsweek magazine ("A Boom in Poorism" Oct. 15, 2007), Outterson explained that the residents of favelas are not as stereotypically "desperate and crushed" as many might assume. Rather, the favelas inhabitants are industrious, and despite the high murder rate of nearly 40 in 100,000 in Rio de Janeiro, and much higher in favelas, the residents seem happy to see their presence.

With "poorism" tours gaining popularity in various parts of the world, Outterson also pointed out that these tours do stop and spend money, helping the local economy. In addition, Be a Local gives 10 percent of its proceeds to the community, with much of it going to children.

Before joining the faculty of BU Law, Outterson was an associate professor of law at West Virginia University in 2002. Previous to that he was an income partner in the Tax and International groups at McDermott Will & Emery and a capital partner in the Health Law group at Baker Donelson. He is a graduate of the University of Cambridge (LL.M.) and Northwestern University (B.S. & J.D.). Outterson teaches courses in health care, business law and globalization. His research work focuses on two areas: global pharmaceutical markets and health disparities. His research papers can be found at

Outterson was recently interviewed by NPR's Eric Weiner on the topic of poorism, which will appear in the New York Times.

Reported by Sara Gelston