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Student Spotlight: Apolinar Montero-Sanchez, December Class 2016

February 10, 2017


I interviewed Apolinar “Apollo” last November, one month before he was set to graduate (early and with honors I might add) with the December Class of 2016.  I asked Apollo about his experience at TJSL, plans after law school and what ultimately inspires him. I chose to interview Apollo because he perfectly represents the students that attend TJSL.  His story also highlights the continued need for the acceptance of students from diverse backgrounds not only here at TJSL, but law schools across the country.

Where did you attend undergrad?

AS:      I attended the University of Oregon and I double majored in Applied Mathematics and Spanish.

Why Spanish?

AS:      Well, my first language is Spanish so I was interested in pursuing academics in Spanish. My mother is from the Dominican Republic and my father is from Mexico. They both immigrated to the U.S back in the mid-80’s. They were the first generation to immigrate here and I am the first generation to be born in the U.S. My mother also attended the University of Oregon with a double major in Math and Economics. So, I think because of that, math comes easier to me than it does most people.

When did you decide to go to law school and why?

AS:      Looking back, I think I first decided to go to law school when I was in elementary school. My mother, Lourdes Sanchez was the first in her family to attend a 4-year university. From there she went to law school.  There were times when she did not have daycare. So, my earliest memories are from around age four, of me traveling with her to school and sitting in classes.  When I ask her about it now, she tells me how sometimes she would have to leave class early because I would complain, “This class is so boring! Why are we here?” So, I guess you could say that TJSL was the second time I have been in law school.

Tell me more about your mom.

AS:      My mother graduated law school when I was seven. Then, two years later she opened her own private practice specializing in personal injury and workers compensation. For the first six years she grew her practice by personally going to client’s homes; and just  like when she was in law school, I tagged along. We visited the homes of families living in poverty, many had come to this country with nothing. Most of her clients were immigrants and some were undocumented, but they were people who had been hurt on their jobs and could not work, or had lost their only child in an automobile accident.  I was very young, but I could tell that what my mom was doing meant a lot to these families. I could tell that she gave them hope. I made the connection that it was all because she went to law school and became a lawyer. Seeing that is was made me want to go to law school. I wanted to help other families the way my mother did. 

Did she encourage you to go to law school?

AS:      It’s funny because she actually did not want me to go to law school. I think because she felt that it was such a high-stress job and never-ending work, she wanted me to do something else she thought I would enjoy more. But, my parents always believed children should choose their own paths in life (within certain boundaries of course) so they never pushed me to go in any particular direction. Growing up I played sports and took drum lessons; they allowed me to explore.

What was your life like growing up in Oregon?

AS:      I am from Eugene, Oregon. So, when I was growing up the Hispanic community was very tight knit because there were only about 100 of us. So, everyone knew that my mom was in law school and they were kind of waiting on her to become a lawyer. And, when she became a lawyer everyone came to her for help. Being a part of that smaller community allowed me to see the differences between the Hispanic community and the larger community of Eugene. The lack of diversity was tough on me quite honestly. I would see people with nice cars and nice homes but none of those people looked like me. While all of the people who did look like me were like the clients my mother worked with. Also, because my mother is what is known as “Afro-Dominican” I also identify with the African-American experience and have had some tough experiences because of that as well.

What State Bar Exams do you plan on taking?

AS:      I will take the California Bar in February of 2017 and then the Oregon Bar in July 2017. I love Oregon and I would like to be able to continue the work my mother is doing there. I also love California and want to build on the contacts I have established here as well. Plus, it is hard not to love California, I mean, it’s paradise.

Private Practice, Solo, Government Agency?

AS:      I will likely go into private practice here in San Diego.

What type of law do you plan to practice and why?

AS:      Personal injury and workers compensation is what I have been mostly exposed to. I have seen first hand the need for people, who do not have a voice, for someone to represent them.

Do you feel TJSL has adequately prepared you for success after graduation?

AS:      Yes and no. The best way to explain it is, law school gives you the tools to become a successful attorney. But, only by actually practicing law can you learn how to be an attorney. I think TJSL does an excellent job with providing internship and networking opportunities so that we can gain practical experience while in school. Jeff Chinn and Prof. Tropp are always emailing us with opportunities.

What type of internships did you work during school?

AS:      For two semesters  I  interned at a civil litigation firm. I also interned at an immigration/criminal law firm during the summer of my 2L year.

What community or volunteer work did you participate in?

AS:      My most impactful volunteer work was with (CLIMB) a high-school mentorship program for TJSL students created by Professor Dyson. I took ConLaw with Prof. Guzelian and he suggested to me one day that I should work with these kids. So, I did and I am so thankful for the experience. I also participated in (VITA) helping members of the community with free income-tax preparation.

What do 1L Students need to know?

AS:      The most important thing for 1L’s to learn from day one is how to IRAC properly. I would even advise students to learn this before they enter law school if they can. Not only will you succeed in law school, but as an attorney as well. For example, you can avoid litigation through writing a good  Motion to Dismiss.

Also, find a mentor to learn from and who you can trust to help you. Most importantly, know that law school is “do-able’. When I first came to law school, I was overwhelmed. I thought that everyone was smarter than me. But soon I learned not to compare or compete with anyone else. I was lucky to have my roommate as my mentor. He told me “Law school is a marathon, not a sprint.”

What do 3L Students need to know?

AS:      3L’s need to seek out all of the available scholarships related to Bar Study prior to their last semester. Also start securing employment prior to graduation. You do not need to be stressing over finding a job while you are studying for the bar. Also, if you already have an employer, they may be willing to help you with paying for the bar as well as allow you work while you wait for your results.

What are your 5-year goals?

AS:      To have a great private practice here in California and in Oregon

So I guess it is safe to say that your mother is your biggest inspiration:

AS:      Yes. What my mother accomplished was so important. Her ability to defy the odds and go to college allowed me to see the impact of education. Her decisions definitely changed my life which will impact future generations. But also, many of my family members are farm and field workers still today. So I definitely feel that I carry their struggle with me. I do not just represent myself. I am here representing for all of them. I use that  to motivate me on those days when I do not want to go to class or study. I realize how fortunate I am to be here.

CLIMB was co-founded by TJSL Professor Maurice Dyson.  The Crawford Legal Institute Mentorship Bond (CLIMB) program, an educational pipeline mentorship initiative with Crawford High School that recently won the California State Bar Diversity Award for Excellence.