Meet Vanessa Pinto ’19: Center for Social Justice Scholar
Commitment to social change. Focus on providing legal services to those in need. Perseverance in the face of great odds. These are the characteristics that define a Center for Social Justice (CSJ) Scholar. Each year, the Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice selects one or more students from those who have completed their first year of law school to serve as CSJ Scholars. The Scholars, who will serve until graduation, are offered a range of public interest opportunities and benefits, including the chance to work on projects at the CSJ during their second year of law school and a full-year of clinical courses in the final year of law school. This year, the Association of Corporate Counsel of New Jersey generously provided a scholarship of $1,000 for each Scholar to support their public interest work during law school.
Journalism helped lead Vanessa Pinto ’19 to her path as a CSJ Scholar. Pinto attended Rutgers University and double majored in Political Science and Journalism and Media Studies. At Rutgers, she was involved with the Puerto Rican Action Board and she tutored English for New Brunswick’s elementary school students.
While Pinto always knew she wanted to be a lawyer, she spent a year working and volunteering before applying to law school. She worked as a case manager at an immigration law firm and focused on asylum and removal cases. At the firm, she learned the value of working with disadvantaged clients. This time away from school solidified Pinto’s passion for both the law and public interest work.
“I had clients, whose stories would move you, whose stories were not much different than what my family faced. It was heart-wrenching work because of how familiar it felt. Any self-doubt I might have had in pursuing the law was washed away. I needed to do this for myself and for those who came before me,” recalled Pinto.
Pinto also volunteered with United Way’s Financial Aid University program. The program assists high school seniors through every step of their college application process. Students learned how to apply for financial aid, search for scholarships, and create a budget for books and transportation. As a first-generation college student, Pinto recalls the difficulty of navigating through the financial aid application and United Way offered her a chance to help students who were similarly unfamiliar with this process.
At Seton Hall Law, Pinto balances her position as a brand manager for Anheuser-Busch with classes in the evening division. When she is not working or in class, Pinto translates for Spanish-speaking clients in the Seton Hall Law clinics. She also serves as the public relations chair for the Latino American Law Students Association and a student senator for the Student Bar Association, where she is chair of the diversity committee. In the fall of 2017, she helped to organize a very successful anti-trafficking awareness event focused on the work of Operation Underground Railroad, a non-profit which conducts rescue missions for human and sex trafficking victims.
During the summer of 2017, Vanessa received a Public Interest Law Fellowship to work at the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General in Newark. She worked in the Professional Boards Prosecution section of the Division of Law battling the opioid crisis that has plagued the state. She focused on the investigation and prosecution of physicians, nurses, and dentists that indiscriminately prescribe Controlled Dangerous Substances.
Pinto’s summer experience sparked an interest in health law where she finds the work both legally complex and rewarding. “I see how the opioid epidemic affects my community and I look forward to tackling this and other public health issues through the CSJ Scholars program.”