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Professor Solangel Maldonado: HBNA Equal Justice Program

Equal Justice: A Journey for Young Latinas

Professor Solangel Maldonado leads a pipeline program for the HNBA

For the past 18 months, Professor Solangel Maldonado has led the Hispanic  National Bar Association’s (HNBA) Latina Commission “pipeline” initiatives – programs designed to help students of color, often students with economic disadvantages – to discover and pursue the many career opportunities that await them within the legal profession. The Latina Commission is dedicated to opening doors specifically for young Hispanic women.

“Latina lawyers are relatively rare,” Professor Maldonado explained. “In 2010 the HNBA conducted a study, “Few and Far Between: The Reality of Latina Lawyers” that was published in the Pepperdine Law Review. The study reported that 17% of the nation’s population is Hispanic, yet comprises less than 4% of the nation’s population of licensed lawyers – and about only one-quarter of those lawyers are women. Latina attorneys are often subjected to both gender and race/ethnic discrimination."

"Miguel Pozo, past President of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey who went on to lead the HNBA, asked me to serve on the Latina Commission to build programs that encourage more Latina girls and young women to consider a career in the law,” Professor Maldonado continued. “He appreciated that my background as an educator, and as the leader of diversity initiatives at Seton Hall Law, would be especially suited to this endeavor.”

As founding Chair of the Seton Hall Law Dean’s Diversity Council, launched in 2008, Professor Maldonado has led the Law School’s programs to foster greater diversity within the legal profession: introducing careers in law to students well before they enter college; generating a more welcoming and inclusive environment among students who attend law school; and finally, shoring up professional networks to enable and empower both new and seasoned attorneys to maximize career opportunities that align with their aspirations. As HNBA’s 2013-15 Latina Commission Pipeline Committee Chair, Professor Maldonado and her colleagues have set their sights nationwide.

Professor Maldonado's Latina Commission co-chairs include Erica Mason, Partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP; Maria Gonzalez Knavel, Partner, Foley & Lardner, LLP (ret.); Monica MacGregor, past Chair of the Latina Commission; Carrie Ricci, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Lt. Colonel Luisa Santiago, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate; and Judge Celeste Villareal of the Municipal Court in Austin, Texas. Earlier this summer they created and hosted “Equal Justice: The Role of the Supreme Court,” a day-long program for 6th, 7th and 8th-grade female students of Gunston Middle School in Arlington, Virginia.

The program included a morning of presentations and discussions of six seminal U.S. Supreme Court cases that the girls were assigned to read and brief in advance. The cases included Brown v. Board of Education, Regents of University of California v. Bakke, and also, a case that resonated for many of the girls, Plyler v. Doe, which in 1982 ruled in favor of providing education for undocumented immigrant children.” Professor Maldonado was especially impressed that one team, preparing a presentation on the “equal pay” case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear, requested a copy of the entire 32-page opinion. The afternoon featured a field trip to the U.S. Supreme Court

To apply, the girls were assigned to read U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World, and submit a short essay describing how they would apply Justice Sotomayor’s life lessons to their own lives. They were also asked to submit a question they would want to ask Justice Sotomayor if given the opportunity. More than 20 girls participated in the program.

Professor Maldonado was intrigued by the diversity she found at Gunston. “It’s a school that reflects that range of wealth you’ll find in the suburbs of Washington: both children of limited means whose parents just came to the U.S., as well as children of judges, politicians and high-level government officials.” She noted, too, that at the program orientation session, several parents spoke only Spanish. “But after the formal presentation, when they could ask questions one-one-one, it was clear that they were fully engaged and eager for their daughters to take full advantage of this program,” she said.

Pipeline programs take numerous forms – NJ LEEP, for instance, the program affiliated with Seton Hall Law, is comprehensive and in-depth, and has a duration of several years. Professor Maldonado and her colleagues have created programs that inspire young people within a day. “We have compiled a list of 25 books that young Latinas, who aspire to go to law school, should read,” Professor Maldonado noted. The selection included Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Albert Camus, The Stranger, Julia Alvarez’ In the Times of the Butterflies, and Frank Kafka’s The Trial. This past March, the Latina Commission donated all 25 books to Fox Tech High School as part of its pipeline program in San Antonio, Texas. In September, at the HNBA national convention in Boston, the Latina Commission will host a panel discussion for Latina students from Esperanza Academy in Lawrence, Massachusetts and from the Big Brother Big Sister program in Boston.

In the meantime, the Latina Commission Pipeline Subcommittee has compiled a “memento book” for the Gunston program participants, with photographs and essays chronicling their visit to the Supreme Court. “A visit to the Court is for most of those girls, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Professor Maldonado is pictured with student participants of the "Equal Justice" program.