Liz Lopez serves on the counsel of Barnes & Thornburg, LLP in Washington, D.C., and is a member of the firm’s Governmental Services Department and Global Services Practice Group. She currently serves on the board of the Hispanic Leaders Association.
Mike Carillo is a partner in the Chicago office of Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, and is a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Department. He sits on the board of trustees for the Hispanic Lawyer Scholarship Fund of Illinois.
Lopez and Carillo spoke to EXTRA about the current legal system and the challenges it faces when it comes to Latinos.
EXTRA: What are some of the issues in your experience that Latinos face in the legal system?
Liz Lopez: Immigration as Dreamers. We may have students that didn’t have the proper documents and realized they couldn’t work because they didn’t have citizenship and a green card. Education is expensive in the U.S., even in-state tuition. There are problems within Latin students graduating from high schools and financial assistance.
Mike Carillo: The biggest difficulty is lack of numbers. Latinos are less represented, especially as you go into larger law firms. I think the problem starts at law school. We have to go back further into the graduate level to get more Hispanic students interested in law school. Financing is probably a factor.
How can the legal system serve undocumented Latinos better?
Lopez: One of the good things is the legal community now will see a change in the immigration system. Immigrations bill needs to be passed. You won’t see a change unless it comes from Congress.
Carillo: Just through awareness in law schools. I think that Chicago has a strong pro bono representation and focus to get people involved and interested in helping undocumented immigrants. We sponsor a lot of pro bono activities.
What resources are available out there for Latinos?
Lopez: If an immigration bill is passed, things will be very different. Resources can’t be offered to someone that is undocumented and this is the problem we are encountering with immigration. Truly there are challenges for the illegal community. Our current laws do not allow us that many options.
Carillo: More programs that will reach out to students with mentors, such as the HLSS and HLAI. People should get involved. Crystal Rey is a program for high school students.
Where can low-income Latinos get help for legal problems?
Lopez: Depending on their status here in the U.S., the rights that are afforded are pretty standard. One of the challenges is the lack of translation. Many questions are being impacted by that.
Carillo: Probably the best place is with the Chicago Bar Association, a gateway to a lot of pro bono organizations. People think of legal issues as things that they’ve seen. I think we have a decent amount of representation in these areas. We need corporate law, intellectual property and complex litigation law students. These are the areas where we need Latinos to fill those gaps.