Oct. 11, 2021 – As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, the University of Houston Law Center, in collaboration with the Hispanic Law Alumni, held an online discussion last Tuesday with prominent Hispanic judges, attorneys, leaders, and students. Featuring Chief Justice Dori Contreras ’90 and Justice Linda Yanez, both of the 13th Court of Appeals, the event highlighted the challenges and opportunities they faced due to ethnicity and their tenacity in pursuing a law degree and career success despite societal skepticism in what was a very Anglo male dominated profession.
Both mission-driven, Yanez was appointed to the Texas Court of Appeals in 1993 as the first Latina state appellate judge in the State and the first woman to serve as Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals. Contreras was the first woman to be elected Chief Justice of the Texas 13th Court of Appeals and the second Latina statewide to hold the office of Chief Justice.
“Being female and Latina were not barriers,” Yanez said. “They were my fuel, my metal which gave me the audacity to believe that I could change the course of the narrative.”
Contreras added, “When I speak to young students, I share with them that I'm no different from them and I encourage them to pursue their educational goals, but more importantly to not let life's obstacles stop them, because we all have to confront challenges… I stress the importance of a strong work ethic, and just sticking with it. In my case being a single mother in college could have derailed me, it could have stopped me, but I found a way.”
“It is so important to take a moment like this to truly highlight our talent and celebrate our heritage and our culture,” said co-chair of the Hispanic Law Alumni Network and Court of Appeals Justice for the First District of Texas Veronica Rivas-Malloy ’01 said. “These two trailblazing justices have truly paved the way for women and Hispanic attorneys of the judiciary, and I am inspired by them.”
Eric Munoz ’06, a partner with Akin Gump law firm, also serves as co-chair of the Hispanic Law Alumni Network.
Led by Dean Leonard Baynes and streamed live via Zoom, speakers discussed questions posed by attendees and offered tips on how to prepare and overcome cultural stigmas, past and present ethnic stereotypes and how to turn the challenges of cultural differences into strengths.
Baynes mentioned how demographics are changing. This year alone, the Law Center boasts one of its largest student classes with the highest median LSAT in over a decade and the highest median GPA in recorded history. It is 55.5 percent female, almost 40 percent minority and almost 20 percent Hispanic.
“For six years in a row, we received an award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine for being one of the top law schools and colleges for diversity,” Dean Baynes said. “This year, we were actually named the Diversity Champion, the only law school to receive this designation.”
Click here to watch the Hispanic Heritage Celebration.