3L Heidi Chamorro applied to the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law after volunteering as a Spanish-language translator for one of the College’s clinics while she was still an undergraduate. In the interview below, she describes how her volunteer experience reinforced her desire to attend the College of Law, describes the practical benefits of pro bono service, and shares two pieces of advice she offers to others who are considering applying to law school generally, and the College of Law specifically.
You followed an interesting route to law school, working as a Spanish translator at the College of Law’s PBI Immigration & Family Law Free Advice Legal Clinics while you were still an undergraduate. How did this influence your decision to attend the College of Law?
Volunteering as a translator during my time as an undergraduate not only solidified my desire to pursue a J.D. but also to do so at the College of Law. At the time there were not many Spanish-speaking students or attorneys volunteering which provided me with a wealth of experience speaking with clients and exposure to the types of legal problems facing low-income communities. Many of the people I translated for felt that they could not find adequate legal help when they were both low-income and had a language barrier. Nothing felt better than being the liaison between clients and the attorneys when the majority of them had simple questions that they couldn’t convey to the help desk or to legal aid because of the language barrier. It was in helping those who repeatedly came back to the clinics for help with forms and ongoing matters that made me realize that there was nothing I wanted more than to become an attorney. During that time that I was able to see how strongly committed the College of Law was to pro bono work and to helping students gain experience through the clinics. JoLynn Spruance, the Director of the Pro Bono Initiative, met with me on numerous occasions as an undergrad to discuss the opportunities for law students and attorneys to do volunteer work. By the time I was ready to graduate it was very clear to me that the College of Law was a perfect fit.
You currently serve as the Pro Bono Student Director over Special Projects. Describe your responsibilities in that role.
I was originally a director over the DACA (“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”) Workshops, a collaborative project with the ACLU of Utah, but then transitioned into a more permanent position for the Pro Bono Initiative. As a student director I help on pro bono projects with local attorneys and head up pro bono placements. I am also there to fill in at the office or at clinics when necessary and assume responsibility for any additional projects that are not part of the already established PBI clinics.
You have also participated in a variety of the pro bono clinics while at the College of Law. Which clinic or experience was your favorite? Why? Specially, what did you learn and how do you think these experiences will help you in practice?
Although I have loved volunteering at the various clinics my favorite and most memorable experience would be as a student director over the DACA Workshops as a 2L. Not only did it expose me to the complexities of immigration law but also provided me with an opportunity to network with community groups and organizations on a level that is not common in law school. Something that I don’t think I appreciated, as a student, was how multifaceted the practice of law can be especially when you are working with non-profits and disseminating information on a large scale. Within the project I worked with an attorney from the ACLU of Utah and a student volunteer creating a workshop model, presentation and packets to put on workshops where an AILA (“American Immigration Lawyers Association”) attorney walked attendees through the process of applying for DACA. This was especially helpful to undocumented youth, many of whom did not have the funds to hire an attorney to fill out paperwork that they themselves could fill and file. During my time as a director I learned a great deal about organizing large events with various groups, non-profits, attorneys and community member all of whom had differing opinions on the way workshops should be created and information presented. I also learned about filling out immigration paperwork and the importance of communication between attorneys in a field where small updates to forms could have large implications if not answered correctly. Although I do not plan to pursue a career in immigration law I think the practical experience I got in working with both attorneys and organizations will be useful in any type of law I choose to practice.
In addition to your coursework and externships, you have also taught the PBI Spanish for Lawyers class. Describe the goal of that class. What kind of feedback do you get from the students and practitioners who have signed up?
The ultimate goal of the class was to give students an opportunity to learn legal terms and practice their Spanish with other classmates. I taught the first class my senior year of undergrad and many of the students, now attorneys, who attended were fluent in Spanish. The feedback was mostly that they found the class helpful in learning new terms they could use at the PBI clinics. Conversely, the class I taught as a 1L was split between those who were fluent and those who knew very little Spanish, which gave the students who knew more a chance to speak more in class. This year I am hoping to create a class better suited to students who are moderately fluent and just need more practice.
And finally, how would you advise a student who is contemplating applying to the College of Law?
As a student ambassador I have spoken to many students who are considering applying to the College of Law. There are two things I usually advise them to do. The first is to talk to a student to see why others, many of whom had other options, chose to come here instead of going to a different school. Secondly, I tell them to look into the clinics and the Pro Bono Initiative to see the types of opportunities they have at getting real world experience at the College of Law. We have a strong clinical program and when the worries of getting a job are at the top of everyone’s mind, going to a school that has opportunities to get real world experience should be a priority.