Today is the first of a very exciting series entitled: Spotlight On! The idea is to showcase new Latina attorneys and learn about the early successes in their careers.
To start this series we’re interviewing Daissy Dominguez, a solo practitioner based in Chicago, Illinois. Daissy joined the bar on October 31, 2013, and opened her own practice, which focuses on criminal defense, immigration, and landlord/tenant law. I’m super excited to tell you all about her because I’ve also had the pleasure to work with her on some cases and know that her dedication to the community is the real deal!
How did you decide to start your own solo practice?
I pursued a legal career with the intention of utilizing my skills and knowledge to give back to my community and advocate for the individuals that can not afford high priced law firms. Originally, my plan after law school was to work for a legal aid organization or a government agency because I wanted to spend my career doing public interest work, serving low-income communities.
Honestly, I never envisioned myself as a business person or even considered starting my own practice until I heard about the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP) while I was studying for the bar exam. JEP is a program whose aim is to serve low/moderate income communities by assisting young attorneys in developing their own private practice. JEP explores concepts like unbundling and flat fees to make legal costs affordable for low/moderate income clients who do not qualify for legal aid but also cannot afford the high billable rates that most traditional law firms charge. I have always been an entrepreneur at heart and throughout my academic career have developed several programs, workshops and events for students. At the time when I was considering JEP, I knew I was creative and could develop successful initiatives, especially for something I was passionate about, but I was cautious because I did not believe I would be able to manage the business end of the program. I decided to take the challenge because I knew the JEP program would provide enough guidance and support to help me establish a sustainable law firm.
When I began to brainstorm what my law firm would entail I realized this was the best decision I could have made, because this opportunity was going to allow me to serve my community in a greater capacity. By starting my own firm I could do more than just provide affordable legal representation. I could expand the firm to offer a variety of resources for the community such as educational legal workshops, leadership training seminars, counseling, financial literacy, scholarships and the list goes on. I would not be tied to the mission and work that an employer would assign me. Instead, I now have the freedom to mold my firm into anything my heart desires, which essentially will be a legal center that will offer much more than your traditional law firm. Ultimately, it was my passion to serve my community, coupled with the opportunity to be a part of the JEP program, that led me to becoming a solo practitioner. I had other opportunities and still continue to be offered job positions, but I have decided to pursue my own firm, because I know that I can make a greater difference if I have the freedom to develop my own initiatives without any restrictions.
What is a typical day like?
Every day is constantly changing! Monday through Wednesday, I am normally anywhere from the city to the suburban courthouses for criminal cases. I travel to 1-3 courthouses a day between 8am – 1pm. After court, I return to the office to get some work done until 6pm. I schedule meetings with clients, nonprofit organizations or host educational legal workshops in the afternoons or on weekends. As a member of various organizations, I normally attend meetings and social events after work.
I enjoy the constant change and flexibility in my schedule because I strive on staying active and dislike having the same routine every day. Often times I do not get home until 7pm, some nights I will work until 9pm, and others I am able to leave as early as 2pm. I never feel like I have been working all day because I see my job as a lifestyle and not just work.
What do you like most about your current position?
I really appreciate the flexibility and autonomy to set my own work schedule and to decide what cases and initiatives I want to focus on and develop.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part has been discussing the attorney fees with clients because, if it were up to me, I would help everyone for free, but unfortunately I need to generate enough income to cover my expenses. Over time I have been overcoming this challenge with the support of the JEP program and advice from other solo practitioners.
What is your best survival tip for current law students?
The best survival tip I can give is to network because it is not about what you know but who you know. Throughout my time in law school I constantly networked and developed genuine professional relationships with faculty and attorneys. The connections that I developed opened many opportunities that have led me to where I am today.
For Latinas considering law school, what advice would you give them?
Go for it! Getting into law school is difficult, staying in law school is hard, and passing the bar exam is probably the most challenging exam you will ever take, but you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it. The number of Latinas in the legal profession is extremely low, but it is important for us to consider the legal profession and become role models to the future generations.
The opportunities with a Juris Doctor are endless because you do not need to be a lawyer, you can open your own business, teach, consult, and the list goes on. For me, I need flexibility and change in my life and these are things a law degree offers that most other degrees do not. I now have started my own business, can change the area of law I want to practice at any time, and plan to become a part-time professor in the future.
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 believe it is important to have a well balanced lifestyle and, as much as I love my work, I need to separate myself from it so I spend my late evenings working out. I attend martial arts, kick boxing and salsa classes during the week and have one day off. In addition to being physically active, I have found a great interest in painting. Painting keeps me focused, allows me to clear my mind and at the end I have a great art piece to hang on the wall! When I paint I feel relaxed and at the same time feel like I was productive because I created a piece of art.
Finally, the million dollar question: have you ever been confused for an interpreter or any other support staff? How did you react?
Yes! I was constantly being asked if I was the interpreter in court, but over time the attorneys, judges, and clerks have become familiar with me. Every time I am asked if I am the interpreter, I simply say no. I have never responded rudely and do my best to be kind and polite to everyone I meet.
On one occasion, a Latina judge, who I knew, overheard the sheriff ask me if I was the interpreter. While the court was in session, the judge stopped and quickly told the sheriff that I was an attorney, not the interpreter, and the sheriff quickly apologized.
Thanks again to Daissy for participating in this series! Here, you can learn more about her practice. If you have any questions for her, please leave them in the comment section. And if you or someone you know would like to be showcased in this series please fill out the contact form and let us know! We’d love to start showcasing people outside of the Chicago area!