Law School

Summer Series: Navigating the Legal World as a First Generation Woman of Color.

I am thrilled to kick off our seventh (!!) summer guest post series! Summer Series is a way for us to learn from Lawtinas throughout the country. They share their summer experiences whether it’s an internship, prepping for the bar, or getting ready for law school, its a great way to get a glimpse of array of work available within the legal industry and to see that while it can often feel like we’re alone in this process there are many of us, all across the nation, who are going through this similar journey. And so today, I’m so happy to introduce you to Bianca Ybarra, a law grad who is prepping for bar exam. But rather than telling us her game plan for the Bar, Bianca is sharing some insights and lessons learned as a first-gen that she hopes can be help others like her.  Take it away, Bianca!

 

If you are in law school or considering law school – you’ve probably sought all the advice you could find; from talking to attorneys and law students, to searching on Youtube “preparing for law school,” to looking on Pinterest finding blogs on outlining and first year MUSTS, to following law school bloggers on Instagram, and DUH finding Latina’s Uprising and the space Nubia created for Latina’s in the profession. You have put in the work of studying for the LSAT, looking at different schools and in a pre-pandemic world going on tours of different campuses, you know the amount of time that will be put into this – heck even starting the process has shown you how demanding this career path will be. You probably know all about the curve and that you should start your outlines right away (lol @ something I would painstakingly do at the end of the semester and often regret delaying). You feel like you understand what you are getting yourself into, I certainly did. Preparing for law school I did all the above + legal internships because I wanted to know how I would fit in this profession.

However, stepping on to campus for orientation my first day and navigating my 3 years, there was a lot the law school blogs did not prepare me for. They did not prepare me for losing my abuela (grandma) my first semester of law school, they did not prepare me for the imposter syndrome I would feel being in a room of students who come from a family of generational attorneys (thankfully this is a more common topic now), they did not prepare me for the anxiety I faced going into criminal clinic and wondering if I would see a family members name on the list of defendants we were being assigned for the semester, and it certainly did not prepare me for running into my estranged tia (aunt) who I hadn’t seen in over 10 years to realize she is a janitor at my law school. 

While you can find advice from other law students and help from professors with the academic aspect of law school – no one talks about the emotional toll you face as a law student, especially if you came from a low-income community. This is not to discourage you but to prepare you, to let you know the path and worries that come up will be different for you. Some of us did not get the luxury of purely stressing about grades but have to also stress about family members and their health or money issues, which is big burden to put on yourself while going through law school. So, here’s what I wish I knew: your path may not be the same as your colleagues, they may and probably will have it a bit easier than you, but do not let that discourage you from being the best version of YOU. 

What helps:

  1. Go to therapy – seriously, you can take an hour out of your week or even biweekly to decompress. There are so many resources from online places like better help to your campus counseling center. Often your campus provides free therapy, take advantage of it!!! There are even websites like Latinx Therapy which offer sliding scale and virtual therapy. For me, I found a therapist on my insurance network and went to her biweekly on Fridays – even when I felt like nothing eventful happened that week, it helped being able to vent my frustrations and work on my own self confidence in a space that was created specifically for that. 
  2. Join a first-generation organization on campus. Unfortunately, my campus’ first-generation organization was created my 3rd year, so I didn’t get to be as involved, but it’s a great way to not feel so isolated in this profession. Now as a graduated law student – I get to contribute and give back. I was fortunate to find other first gen students my first year and they are the people I now have weekly lunches with on Thursdays during bar prep. It’s easier to face these rough patches with people who will get it and support you through it. You don’t have to do this alone. Let me repeat myself, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE!
  3. Set boundaries – yup I said it! I said the thing you aren’t supposed to say as a Latina. BUT your boundaries are important, especially in law school. You won’t have the time you use to, and it can be difficult for your family to understand but it’s necessary. For me, this came up with my tia – I no longer speak with my father and I had to ask her to respectfully, not disclose where I’m going to law school or that I’m in the city. I know for myself I cannot handle the mental nor emotional strain that comes from speaking with my father, especially not while preparing for the bar exam. This also will come up when family members or friends ask you for legal advice, which will happen, saying “I cannot give legal advice without being licensed and this could jeopardize my law license” is probably the best line I have used. 
  4. Remind yourself why you started and all the work it took to even get to this point. YOU DID THAT!!! You may struggle, we all do – this profession was not made for us, BUT the representation that others need is the reason WHY we are there and why we cannot give up. YOU, your voice, your perspective is valid and necessary, it is how we create the change we want to see in this industry, the change that is so desperately needed.

 

I cannot say any of this journey has been easy, especially factoring in a pandemic and snowpocalypse in Texas, but knowing I have the ability to now step into a room and voice representation in important matters – it was worth it. Being able to provide insight to other first-generation law and prelaw students made this journey worth it. Most importantly, going through this journey while being authentic to myself and not letting anyone tell me I should be “more” or “less” of xyz – now that was pivotal to my success these 3 years. I am Bianca Ybarra, I grew up on the west side of San Antonio, I am Latina, I am a first-generation law student who comes from migrant grandparents – and I will not let this profession make me shrink myself to be “liked,” because there is nothing wrong about who I am and where I came from. And there is nothing wrong with who you are and where you came from. You are needed, you are worthy, and you belong here – let’s up the 2%.

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