Carving Your Own Path in the Legal Field

Carving Your Own Path in the Legal FieldThis week we welcome back guest writer Zoila Sanchez to discuss how you can find your own, unique area of the law.

When I was an undergraduate, it seemed to me that most students fell into either pre-medical school track, psychology, or business. I recall our career center heavily focusing on business opportunity events, however, none of these paths seemed to spark my interests. We did not hear much about other possibilities.

Where Your Passion Takes You

I decided to follow my passions and not worry so much about where they ultimately lead. I started becoming heavily involved in student leadership opportunities. For example, I served as a Resident Assistant for graduate housing which allowed me to plan programs for residents. In my junior year through graduation, I served as a Chapter Vice President then President, for a social justice Latina sorority. In this role, I dedicated events and programs to the empowerment of Latino communities. I also took advantage of study abroad opportunities where I worked with children in a not-for-profit school. The students previously worked as young street vendors. The school was committed to keeping the children off the street and in school. After these experiences, I started to develop a passion for social justice advocacy.

First Job

This approach led me to my first job out of college. I was hired at a federally qualified community health center located in an underserved community in the Bronx, New York. I planned, coordinated, and evaluated health and wellness programs aimed at improving community health outcomes. This experience was incredible—not only did I find my sense of purpose in improving the health and well-being of a patient community, but I developed a passion for public health.

Graduate School

I went on to obtain my Master’s in Public Health (“MPH”), in Tucson, Arizona! Here, I was confronted with a harsh political climate against undocumented immigrants. I started following the local news more closely and learned about a new law—Senate Bill 1070—affecting immigrant communities. Luckily, my classes were within walking distance from the university’s law school! I discovered student groups were hosting events to help the community understand the impact of the law. I attended these student-led events on a weekly basis and began making friends with student leaders of law student organizations. They introduced me to ways I could make a difference at a local human rights organization. They often discussed their awesome ideas to publish in the law school journal on human rights issues. I was filled with inspiration and purpose for the possibilities for jobs in the legal field.

I realized what a powerful combination that a public health and law degree could be for advocacy and policy change purposes. This influenced my decision to create a public health internship as part of my MPH program thesis. I obtained permission and was awarded funding to go to Nogales, Mexico on a weekly basis to intern with a Mexican government agency that assisted unaccompanied migrant children who were traveling through the U.S.-Mexico border without an adult. The center was both an intake office and a shelter. I learned about their journeys and struggles. I decided to start examining implications for policy and law based on my assessment of their health needs.

Additionally, I started a graduate student organization, L.U.C.H.A (Learning, Understanding, Cultivating Health Advocacy), where we raised awareness of border health issues and led student activities such as water station drop-offs in the desert.

Next Steps

Through these experiences I started to develop a specific interest in health advocacy in the undocumented immigrant community and the ways that policy and law play a role. I decided that I wanted to pursue law school but did not know when the right time would be. So, I took the next best step and started looking into what I needed to get into law school. The next stop was studying for the LSAT.

Years later, I chose to apply to a law school located in the same town that my grandparents, immigrants from El Salvador, lived and raised us. I wanted to have a meaningful connection with the school and community. Knowing what fueled my passion made law school enjoyable on hard days. I started a student organization focused on social justice and led discussions to hear student insights on human rights issues. I often thought about Arizona’s immigrant communities, and this encouraged me to be a change maker through the law. I applied for an opportunity to take a semester in Washington, D.C., and work for the federal government, where I had a life-changing front-row seat into impactful efforts to address child health in immigration detention facilities.

Be a Trailblazer

When the Covid pandemic hit, it was my final semester and the starting point for bar exam studies. The pandemic stress became so overwhelming that I started to lose sight of why started. I reflected more deeply and thought back on the first impression I had in a law school classroom in Arizona. I remembered how I began—by carving my own path and finding my passion for the law. I hope this story can help you to stay encouraged on your own journey and trailblaze your path!


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About Zoila Sanchez

During law school, she served as a Legal Clerk with the federal government at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Counsel to the Inspector General in Washington, DC. Currently, she works for a health and business law firm. She enjoys spending down time mentoring students sitting for the bar exam through the American Bar Association Council on Legal Education Opportunity program and taking it easy with her three poodles.

Ms. Sanchez holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stony Brook University, a Master of Public Health from the University of Arizona and Juris Doctor from Hofstra University.

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