PASSAIC, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A group of Hispanic lawyers in New Jersey are stepping out of the office and into high school classrooms.
It’s part of a program to increase the number of Hispanics in the legal field and show students that the sky is the limit, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported Tuesday.
Colleagues know Julia Lopez as a senior litigator in the pharmaceutical industry at international law firm Reed Smith LLP, but she’s also a proud mentor and immigrant.
“I was born in Guatemala. I immigrated to this country when I was 5 years old,” Lopez said. “I remember delivering pizzas with my father, doing my homework in the back seat of the car and taking him to the different places that we had to deliver pizza, but it showed me work ethic.”
The graduate of Georgetown University and Rutgers Law School is now the president of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey. She said even though nearly a quarter of the country’s population is Latino, very few become lawyers.
“In the past 10 years they have remained at 4 percent of Latinos in the legal profession,” Lopez said.
And only a fraction make it to partner. That’s why attorney Anna Maria Tejada started the “American Dream Pipeline Program” seven years ago. Hispanic attorneys meet every month with high school students in Passaic and Union City.
According to Tejada, they discuss “their areas of interest with respect to careers and also look at types of colleges or universities that they want to apply to.”
Students and adults say they have seen the most growth through one-on-one mentoring.
“We have a prosecutor mentor here and she showed us her badge and I was just like ‘Wow!’ It was just so inspiring,” high school senior Lixangelys Ruiz said.
Recently, the group met Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Federal Judge Esther Salas. The organization also helps students pay for college, awarding more than $100,000 in scholarships over the last year.
“A lot of them don’t understand how this is even a path for them,” attorney Carlos Bollar said.
“I just hope one day these kids will be attorneys and if not find what their purpose is in life,” attorney Andy Mercado said.
A purpose that they don’t have to find alone.
To find out more about the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey, please click here.