According to Rocío Cristina García, the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association exists to provide legal services to the Hispanic community, to enrich and ensure the success of its members in the legal profession in Dallas and to actively become involved in issues affecting the Hispanic community. She is a commercial real estate attorney at Hunton & Williams LLP and is heavily involved in the community. As the 2016 president, we sat down with her to discuss her goals for the association and the leadership’s outlook for the future.
AALM: Is there an interesting story behind the founding of your association?
García: Mr. Florentino Ramirez mentioned that part of the reason the DHBA started is because the founders wanted to mentor new lawyers and share experiences that would add to their ability to address issues that were common to many of their clients. Their aim was to develop professionalism and help each other. While the association only had a handful of members in 1969, currently we have 300 members practicing in every area of the law and at all size law firms, their own practices, and in government.
AALM: What was the association’s main focus this year?
García: Our focus this year was on community impact. The Youth Law Symposium, chaired by Jiroko Lopez and Ana-Maria Ramos, reached 250 public high school students to teach them about a career in law and have an opportunity to engage with Hispanic attorneys; if students do not meet Hispanic attorneys, it would be difficult for them to imagine themselves becoming attorneys. Also, many of them went on their first college campus tour at UTD, where the symposium was held.
Through the series Conozca Sus Derechos (Know Your Rights), we connected with 240 community members to teach them in Spanish about their legal rights. They appreciated having the material presented in Spanish and having attorneys with whom they could have individual questions answered. Through a legal clinic for unaccompanied minors chaired by Tricia Freshwater, 50 children and their families had their cases screened to determine if any immigration relief was available to them.
Through the Latina Leadership Program chaired by Cynthia Sutherland, we reached over 100 undergraduate and law school students and attorneys to share our experiences as Latina attorneys. It was empowering to see so many women come together to help each other in an area where we are still heavily outnumbered by our male counterparts. Our record-breaking fundraising for the Annual Event: Noche de Luz (Evening of Light) will fund many of these initiatives.
One of our new initiatives this year was setting up an LSAT scholarship program in which five students are currently taking an LSAT course. Instead of working to pay for the course, each student can focus on her studies and obtain the highest grades and score to prepare her application to law school. Finally, we were active in civic engagement by assisting voter registration drives and participating in a coalition for voter protection to ensure that every eligible voter was able to cast his or her ballot. It was a busy year for the DHBA!
AALM: How would you encourage a young lawyer to become involved in their legal community?
García: When I moved to Dallas after graduating from law school, I was interested in becoming active in my community. Being an active member of the DHBA was a good way to do that and to meet new colleagues. I would recommend getting involved in a local bar association, such as the DHBA, and becoming engaged in one of their programs. You will enjoy contributing to your community, learning about its history, and meeting new colleagues all at the same time.
AALM: Do you partner with any other associations in the local community?
García: Absolutely. Without our community partners, we would not have been able to do our work this year. We collaborated with UTD, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, Catholic Charities of Dallas, RAICES, the Peace and Social Justice Committee at Cathedral Guadalupe, Texas Civil Rights Project, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Dallas Bar Association and the sister bar associations, among others. By partnering with each of these organizations, we can ensure that we reach as many of our community members as possible. It was also a great way to learn more about their work and contribute to the fulfillment of their own missions. We enjoyed working with these associations to attack the issues our community faces each day.
AALM: In the past years, what CLE events seemed to be most popular?
García: CLEs about current topics and their impact on the Hispanic community are popular. This year we held a State of Voting Rights in the Lone Star State, which was very timely and popular given the changes to voter ID laws that affect minority communities. We also hold a Spanish for Lawyers CLE, which is aimed at native Spanish speakers who may want to become more comfortable with Spanish legalese.
AALM: Besides networking and CLE events, what do you provide your members?
García: The DHBA provides the opportunity to give back to our community. Many of us are first-generation college students, and we want to give back to our community because the need is high. We have many opportunities to do so through all of our programs and initiatives.
AALM: As you look back at your association’s history, what role do you think it has played in the community? Do you think that will change in the future?
García: We have learned a great deal about our history from our founders. Last year, at the Past Presidents’ Dinner, newer members found out that one of our association’s major contributions in its early days was making sure that witnesses could attend court hearings without fear of their immigration status being held against them.
Our founders, Frank P. Hernandez, Manuel Almaguer, Florentino Ramirez, Adelfa B. Callejo, William F. Callejo, Adolph P. Canales and Eugenio Carorla were trailblazers; without their efforts, we would not have made the progress that we have made. Mrs. Adelfa Callejo was the first Hispanic woman to graduate from law school at SMU in 1961!
Now, half of the DHBA board is composed of women attorneys. As we move forward, we hope to honor our founders by making headway into our next challenge: increasing diversity in the law. Hispanic attorneys are a small minority of the attorneys in DFW, which is not reflective of the large Hispanic community. It is critical that we do our part to increase the number of students who consider a career in law, receive mentorship, and have a support system to increase their likelihood of remaining in the practice of law.