Thirty one years of inspiring and engaging the future generation of Latino law professionals
The Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania Legal Education Fund has awarded scholarships to deserving Latino law students in the region since 1989.
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Over the past three decades-plus, the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania Legal Education Fund (HBALEF) has awarded over 175 scholarships to deserving, qualified Latino law students.
Each year during its Annual Scholarship Reception, the HBALEF honors the students who are representing the next generation of Latino law professionals in the region.
After the COVID-19 pandemic caused last year’s event to not take place, this year’s edition of the event, which took place virtually on Wednesday, Nov. 10, saw two classes of scholarship recipients.
This year, 15 total Latino law students — representing Temple University, Drexel University, Rutgers University, University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University and the University of Pittsburgh — were named as 2020 and 2021 scholarship recipients.
In addition, thanks to a new partnership with AL DÍA, the HBALEF awarded one University of Delaware Law School student as the inaugural recipient of the Judge Nelson Diaz Scholarship for $5,000.
At the virtual event, Diana Cortes, Philadelphia’s first Latina City Solicitor, was honored for her multitude of contributions to the legal profession in the city.
She is a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion and actively seeks to expand representation of underrepresented groups in Philadelphia’s legal ranks, all a product of her own journey as often one of the few women of color in the firms she worked before becoming Philly’s chief legal officer.
During her speech, Cortes took the time to reflect on and embrace both her opportunities and setbacks throughout her career, advising the scholarship recipients to do the same.
“Both are vital to your development as lawyers, people and future leaders,” she said.
Cortes began her legal career clerking for the Honorable Chief Judge Juan Sánchez at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, before moving on to work at a large law firm in the city.
After hearing about the various challenges that come with working at a law firm as a woman of color, she entered already thinking about her exit strategy with an eye towards the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
As she reflects now on that decision, a part of her wonders if doing so was simply a defense mechanism “to reject the system before it could reject me.”
“At that time, I doubted my value and capabilities and questioned my status and belonging and future with this law firm,” said Cortes.
Fast forward to today, as she approaches a year since becoming Philly’s first Latina City Solicitor, a big reason she was able to find herself in this role was when she became more comfortable with embracing her opportunities.
When she worked at the District Attorney’s Office, she embraced the opportunity to interact with people in and out of the courtroom of different races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and education.
While the stressful environment often made her want to opt out, she instead opted to push forward.
“Little did I know at the time that this daily connecting with people in a stressful setting helped prepare me for the great job that I have today,” said Cortes.
As City Solicitor, she leads a 300-plus person law firm and legal counsel for all city officials, employees, departments and must effectively communicate, listen, advise and at times provide immediate solutions on a daily basis.
As a piece of advice to the next generation of Latinx law professionals, Cortes harkens back to a quote once stated by former First Lady Michelle Obama: You belong in the places you’re finding yourself because you got yourself there.
“Remember, you have been selected for a reason and belong exactly where you are with these opportunities,” Cortes advised those law students.
“Do not opt out; do not let anyone, including those little voices in your minds or any external haters, tell you otherwise; fully embrace and crush every opportunity you are given,” she continued.
In addition, Fox Rothschild, LLP was named the Partners of the Year, and Comcast NBCUniversal was named Corporate Partner of the Year at the event.
The HBALEF is a non-profit organization dedicated to the professional and educational advancement of Latinos in the legal profession.