It’s time for another Latina Leader Lunes! Today we spotlight Denise Hernandez, an assistant district attorney based in Texas. Not only is she a litigator and advocate for survivors of domestic violence but she is also the co-founder of Hustle for the Cause, a a Social Impact Production company out of Austin, Texas. Owned and operated by LGBTQ Women of Color, their mission is to generate a positive social impact by creating cultural content and experiences that empower undeserved communities. She is also the founder of Chingona Fest, a statewide conference and music festival focused on empowering Latinas. So we can assume she is booked and busy and we’re so eager to hear what guidance she has for us today:
1. When & why did you decide to go to law school?
I decided to go to law school at the age of 15 when I realized that I could make a difference by advocating. When I was a freshman in high school, I was a part of the National Hispanic Institute (NHI), a nonprofit that teaches young Latinos public speaking skills, professional development, and critical thinking skills. While I was in this program, I was debating Latino issues, like assimilation, through a Mock Trial type debate. I assumed the role of the “attorney” in these debates. I cross-examined witnesses and put on evidence in my case for or against assimilation. I immediately fell in love with the process and passion of Mock Trial. Up until this point of my life, I never realized that I could use my voice to make a difference nor did I realize that I could pursue a career in public speaking. I knew right then and there that I was meant to be a lawyer. I felt drawn to the profession, which was strange because no one in my family went to college nonetheless law school. However, when I reflected on my life I realized that I spent most of my life advocating for my family and translating for my parents. I was already an advocate but NHI helped me realize my potential as a public speaker, and completely changed the trajectory of my life.
2. What and Where do you practice?
I’m an assistant district attorney in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in Austin, Texas. I serve in the Special Victims’ Unit, fighting domestic violence in the Family Violence Division.
3. What is a typical day like?
I spend most of my morning negotiating and working up criminal cases in felony court, and the afternoon prepping cases for trial. This may include meeting with victims, witnesses, reviewing evidence, doing legal research, and/or preparing for hearings. I’m in trial at least once a month, so I’m constantly preparing for the next trial. Each day, I’m working on a case, reviewing evidence, and developing my legal theory on the case. There’s never a dull moment.
4. What attracted you to this practice area?
I always felt drawn to public service. As a Latina, I feel obligated to serve and represent my community in this position. But most importantly, I’m committed to fighting for victims of domestic violence. As mentioned, I always felt like an advocate, even at a young age, so it felt natural to serve in a position that is dedicated to advocating for those who need it the most.
5. What do you like most about your current position? And what is the most challenging aspect of your work?
I love the ability to make a difference in someone’s life. As assistant district attorney you are literally fighting for someone’s safety and well-being. It’s a rewarding experience but it’s also challenging. Domestic violence is a complex issue with multiple dynamics of trauma, and sometimes you can carry that trauma with you. That’s the most challenging aspect of my work, trying to maintain self-balance in a chaotic system.
6. If you could give your 1L self advice about law school, what would it be?
Don’t doubt yourself. You’re powerful and your representation matters.
So often, as Latinas we feel imposter syndrome in professional situations. We doubt our ability and our position at the table but we’re powerful. Our representation is necessary, and it’s time that we let all our Latina light shine!
7. What is your best tip for someone in beginning their law school application process?
Don’t overthink your personal statement. Be authentic and raw.
8. 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?
I work out daily and journal, but most importantly I give thanks on a daily basis. Gratitude is life changing and I intentionally incorporate that into my daily routine.