By Celine Aka • February 17, 2017•Ms. JD, Conference, Careers, Nonprofits and the Public Interest, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
2017 Ms. JD Woman of Inspiration Award
The following questions were formulated based on Daissy's profile.
1. Why did you decide to open your own practice, Dominguez Legal Justice Center, LLC (DLJC), as opposed to work for an already established public interest organization or law firm?
When I started law school my intentions were to work for a legal aid organization serving low and moderate income communities. I spent my entire law school career interning and volunteering with legal aid organizations. I became a lawyer to be able to have the knowledge and tools to support our communities. When I graduated law school there were not many opportunities to work within the legal aid organizations and the fellowships as wonderful as they appeared offered a very low compensation. I was fortunate that at the time when I graduated law school an amazing program called the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP) was launched. JEP offered me the opportunity to work with the communities I wanted to serve, but also gave me the opportunity to have the autonomy to create a firm that could be molded into any shape I believed could better serve our communities. When I realized the positive change I could make in the community and the endless possibilities of the initiatives I could develop through my own practice I became very excited about this new journey. Knowing I had the autonomy to build my firm tailored to the needs of the community was my motivation during the tough times during the first year of opening my practice. I never envisioned myself being a business owner and having my own practice, but the decision to launch DLJC has been one of the best decisions I've made during my career. Through DLJC I have been able to not only handle legal cases, but also host educational workshops and training's, we provide referrals of trustworthy networks that can assist clients with non-legal issues, establish a small scholarship for undocumented college students, develop an informal mentoring program for those seeking to pursue a legal profession, and providing internship opportunities for students. Had I not pursued my own private practice, I don't know that I would have been able to accomplish everything I have been able to do with DLJC.
2 & 3. What was the biggest challenge you encountered in opening your own practice? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was the long hours and financial limitations I encountered during the first year of opening my own practice. At the time I had recently graduated law school and was sworn-in when I immediately began to develop DLJC. Therefore, I did not have a book of business or funds. In order to cover my personal expenses I took a part-time job at a law firm to have a steady paycheck that would cover my expenses. I reached out to my law school to obtain a stipend to provide financial support to the firm and was fortunate to have obtained a $6,000 stipend and also applied for an alumni scholarship and was granted $2,500, all the funds were used towards the necessary business expenses which allowed me to cover my business expenses without taking a loan or credit cards. I worked long hours to develop my client book of business to generate additional income and a stable book of business in order to have financial stability to have had the ability to quit my part-time job and rely on the firm income to cover both personal salary and business expenses. It took dedication, hard work, and passion to get through the tough first year.
4. So, DLJC provides community education programs such as know your rights workshops. Why is it important to engage in community advocacy in addition to the day-to-day individual client representation that you do?
The purpose of DLJC is to serve the needs of our communities beyond individual case representation. As a lawyer I have many tools, skills, and knowledge that could benefit our communities and I believe it is important for me to share those resources to educate and empower our communities. Providing educational legal workshops helps individuals understand their rights and have a general understanding of the laws. I primarily focus my educational workshops on immigration matters by conducting Know Your Rights presentations and provide general information on requirements and qualifications for those seeking to obtain legal residency through various immigration petitions. The workshops and training's provide our communities with the right information that they might have not otherwise had and an opportunity to ask questions to an attorney who understands the laws. It empowers community members to protect their rights and seek legal support if they identify that they may qualify for legal residency through an immigration petition. Providing access to a lawyer through these workshops is critical because currently many low and moderate income individuals find it difficult to have access to a lawyer. Currently the legal profession has identified an issue called the "justice gap" caused by the lack of legal access to low and moderate income communities that many times end up in court pro-se or not pursuing legal recourse because of the lack of access to an attorney. DLJC along with many other firms that are a part of JEP seek to address the "justice gap" and serve those individuals who have lacked access to attorney's.
5. What advice would you give to female law students and young female attorneys who aspire to open their own practice?
Go for it! It will not be an easy process but when you do it with preparation, are dedicated, hard working, and passionate you can start your own practice. But be sure to never lose sight of your values and passion for why you became a lawyer. It takes both a business hat and genuine passion for the law to develop a sustainable practice. It is never too early to start your own practice and there will never be a perfect time to start your own practice, it all depends on when you want to get started. I started my practice when I was 26, as soon as I was sworn into the bar and you can do the same because if I can do it, you can as well. I highly recommend the JEP program to any attorney interested in starting their own practice because it was a wonderful program that helped me establish DLJC. Never let anyone or anything dictate what you can or can't do and always take a chance on yourself and your goals, because even if you fail you will learn a lesson that will help you keep moving forward.
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