Issues · Law School · Legal Practice · Work Life Balance

Latina Leader: Criminal Defense and Immigration Attorney Latisha Rivera

This is another installment of the series, formerly called Spotlight On! A series where we showcase  Latina lawyers and learn about the successes in their early careers.

Today we talk to Latisha Rivera, a criminal defense/immigration attorney based in Baltimore.

Now, through our Instagram community, I am privileged to see sneak peeks into the lives of so many of you and all the hard work you do. So it’s no small thing when I say that Latisha works! I see her putting in the time to make herself a better litigator and advocate that always leaves me so impressed! Super excited to have her share some of her  knowledge today:

1.  When did you start practicing?  

Technically, I passed the Texas Bar a few weeks prior to graduating law school (May 2015) but I didn’t actually become a full blown litigating attorney until Fall 2015. Then, I passed Maryland!

2. What and Where do you practice?

My practice areas are divided like a pie chart! Overall, I consider myself a crim-immigration attorney. I practice immigration, crimmigration (think: post conviction and advising immigrants, criminal defense attorneys and immigration attorneys about criminal consequences of criminal convictions) and criminal defense. This comprises about 85% of my practice.

The remaining 15% is unevenly divided between personal injury (motor tort and police misconduct: solely jury trials) and family law (custody and non contested divorce).

I practice immigration anywhere I can! So far, I’ve been to Maryland, Virginia and Philadelphia. New York and Texas are hopefully next!

With state based law I’m limited to Maryland and Texas.

3. What is a typical day like?

Insanity. haha It is a whirlwind of emotions! I walk into work every morning bracing myself for all types of emotions. Some days I have back to back consultations whether they be in my office or in one of the detention centers. Some days I have to be in two different courthouses for two different hearings/trials involving two different types of law. Some days I have one whole day to myself in my office where I furiously attempt to get all my work done.

Most days my work day is 10-12 hours long. See what I mean? Insanity. Every day I leave though, whether it be 6 pm or 10 p.m., I know that my work is meaningful. That makes it a little less insane. It also helps that my fiancé is a public defender with an equally insane work schedule. He gets me!

4. How did you get started in this area of law?

I get asked this a lot and my answer is generally the same. I’ve seen too often in life that our people are taken advantage of by the justice system. A system that is meant to provide justice oftentimes skips over us for a variety of reasons (language barriers, skin colors, misconstrued perceptions) and I will never be one to stand idly by and let that continue.  I always knew that I wanted to help people; be a voice for the voiceless. Coupled with the fact that I am a product of immigration being Puerto Rican and Jamaican, being an immigration attorney just seemed like a natural path.

So, here I am!

5. What do you like most about your current position?

The freedom! I know it may not seem like I’m very “free” due to my crazy work days but I am. When I first starting working at my job, my boss wasn’t super experienced in removal defense. He mainly did USCIS based cases. However, he did let me attend every single training my heart desired and paid for a lot of them. He then allowed me to take on about 30 Pro Bono cases (ranging from U visas, SIJS, VAWA, withholding, defensive and affirmative asylum,  post conviction, expungements, etc) in order to implement all that I had learned from said trainings. From day one, he has trusted my intuition and let me make my own decisions while supporting me 100%. At times when I’ve needed to be pushed out the nest, he’s cut that cord and let me fly. (i.e. when I had to do my own jury trials!).

Having a boss that trusts you and gives you space to spread your wings makes a huge difference in work life happiness!

6. What is your best survival tip for current law students?

Preparation is KEY. I was blessed enough to have an amazing trial advocacy coach whom I refer to as “Coach.” Coach taught me many many things. The most important being that if you’re prepared for anything than nothing can stop you. I apply this to EVERYTHING in life.

When I walk into Court, I always have multiple copies of evidence in my hand and multiple well thought out arguments in my mind.

Additionally, although my Bar Prep experience was a little different (took one while still in school), when it was time to gear up for Bar Prep, I ordered a box of MBE flashcards and started studying months before Bar Prep started. I enrolled in Bar Skills for my entire 3L year. Once actually in Bar Prep mode, I made a chart of all the past tested essays and the average that they were tested an I did above and beyond the essays required from Kaplan. See what I mean about being prepared? I passed both and it was because I was prepared for whatever those examiners had to throw at me.

7. For Latinas considering law school, what advice would you give them?

Stay true to who you are and the value and principles that Mami taught you. I never mispronounced my name in order to make it easier for someone to say “Rivera.” Even now in Court, if the Judge asks me to repeat my name for the record, I spell it out rather than repeat it without an accent. Stay strong and fierce like Mami taught us. You’ll need it in the legal field where a lot of attorneys don’t look like us but a lot of the clients we represent that DO look like us are depending on us.

8. What’s your advice for new lawyers who feel like they’re being treated differently because they are women or a person of color?
You are. Never doubt what you feel. I’ve had clients that want to speak to my boss, and not me, because I’m a woman. Each and every time this happens even when I would gladly want to hand over the case and the client to my boss, he walks into the conference room and sets them straight.
Also, I’ve had lawyers (male and female) who didn’t want to shake my hand because of the color of my skin. One of my clients pointed out when a female attorney did this to me in Court. He pulled me to the side and told me that this would keep happening until I demanded respect. He went through a role play with me and taught me how to always have my hand outstretched and ready; to give the firmest hand shake. It was a simple gesture but it made me realize how I, myself, had started to come to terms with the lack of respect. Nuh uh! My hand stays ready now haha.
I say all that to say, while you can’t change the ingrained biases that someone has against you, you CAN ensure that you are extra on point (see my advice on preparation) every time you’re in front of a judge, client, clerk, attorney, etc.
Is it exhausting to always feel like you have to be ten times better than the non black, brown person OR male in the room? Yes. But does it feel AMAZING when you’re so on point that you crush that same person in court? Yes. Stay strong, mujeres!
9. At Latinas Uprising, we focus on living a life well-lived.  What’s something you do (or try to do) to help reduce the stress in your life and create a healthy lifestyle?
Exercise! Often times I deal with bouts of anxiety due to the heavy caseload, long work days, and direct representation of clients. Working out first thing in the morning for AT LEAST 30 minutes makes a huge difference in my life. As soon as that workout is finished and I’m getting ready for work (with Celia Cruz or Marc Anthony blasting in the background) my whole energy shifts and it’s as if my aura changes from dark purple to bright orange! Good stuff!
I’ve also starting incorporating more essentials oils and a diffuser into my life. I never knew scents could be so uplifting! I always have a diffuser going in my office.

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