‘This is Where I Have my Familia.’ Jessica Martinez ’24 of CHLLSA

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close for 2023, Texas Law is pleased to extend our observances by spotlighting the Chicano/Hispanic/Latino Law Students’ Association, also known as CHLLSA, and its president, Jessica Martinez ’24.

Headshot of Jessica Martinez
Jessica Martinez ’24, CHLLSA President

CHLLSA was founded to advance diversity in the legal profession through the recruitment and promotion of Hispanic/Latino law students via activities including forums, panels, lectures, and banquets, as well as raising and providing scholarship funds. The association seeks to expand opportunities for students at Texas Law, as well as providing service to the community at large. Currently membership totals around 120 law students.

Martinez, who previously studied at the University of Texas at El Paso, aims to practice as a litigator in Dallas following her graduation. She’s especially interested in pursuing health care litigation—based on the intersection of her ongoing work as a nurse and her education at Texas Law.

Martinez spoke with us to share more about CHLLSA and its plans for the year.

Can you share how CHLLSA celebrated at its Hispanic Heritage Month event?

We did a churro stand and a trivia game with 32 questions ranging from general Hispanic Heritage Month questions, to questions specific to Central America, South America, and Mexico. We wanted to incorporate information on Hispanics and Latinos in the legal field. So, one of the questions was, “Out of all of the deans nationwide, how many identify themselves right now as Latino or Latinx?” And the answer was six. That was a fact we learned at the Hispanic National Bar Association Annual Convention in Minneapolis, attended by four of our students including myself. Another question was, “How many partners identify as Latinx?” And that’s 2.98%.

CHLLSA members hosting HHM Trivia
CHLLSA celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with a trivia game.

The trivia game was very much an educational project. That was our goal. And of course, to entice people to participate in something educational, you’ve got to give them free food—and what’s better than churros?

Educational and delicious! And next is CHLLSA’s boat cruise on Ladybird Lake?

Yes, that’s our next big event. We really enjoy having a boat cruise. I think we’re the only affinity organization that hosts a boat cruise in the fall semester. It’s a way for us to get out of the school environment and truly bond with our peers. So, we control the music, we control the food that is served, and all dues paying CHLLSA members get to attend. And it’s obviously a lot of fun. It takes 10 minutes to break the ice, but then everyone’s talking!

What else can people look forward to?

We are doing something different. We normally have Fajita Fiesta twice a year—once in the fall and once in the spring. But we’re trying to revamp our Fajita Fiesta for the fall semester, and instead of doing a full Fajita Fiesta, we’re going to leave that to the spring, and we want to do an antojos stand on Nov. 14. We’re going to be selling aguas frescas, we’ll be selling elotes, and other food and snacks for people to buy.

Mainly, the goal is to fundraise for our events for members, but it’s also a way to share with everyone else in the law school community a taste of who we are.

Is the CHLLSA banquet happening?

Yes, though we don’t have a date for that yet. It’s free for dues-paying members and it’s open to alumni who want to take part. We also bring together all our sponsors and donors. We honor all our incredible accomplishments from throughout the semester. We give out some awards and scholarships for our members, and then we have a good time.

CHLLSA members at the organization's boat cruise.
CHLLSA members at the organization’s boat cruise on Ladybird Lake.

Are there any other upcoming events you can share?

On Jan. 28, that last Friday of the month, the Latinas in Law Cafecito focuses on women empowerment, especially Latinas pursuing a legal career, those who are already in law school and those who are interested in coming to law school. We’re showing them, “There’s power in numbers, you are able to do it.” We want to bring in alumni who have graduated from Texas Law who are out working in the field from different backgrounds, who took different paths. It’s like a speed networking opportunity. Everyone will sit together and talk about their experiences in groups, and then transition people around.

Turning from our focus on current students and alumni, you also help incoming and prospective students at Latino Law Day. Can you describe that event?

Our tentative date right now is March 2. Latino Law Day gives Latino students across the state—or anyone who wants to come—the opportunity to see what being a law school student is like. It’s like admitted students’ day but for undergrads who are interested in pursuing a legal education or who have applied and are still waiting for a response. We have admissions come talk to them, we offer a mock class, and we give a tour of law school. It’s very much geared towards letting students see what it’s like to be a law student. And we do panels with some students, some alumni. Everyone just welcomes them and shows them what being a Texas Law student is like.

There are a couple current members of our organization who have participated in it, and that event definitely made a big impact on their decision to come to Texas Law.

What else does CHLLSA have planned?

Our Dress for Success scholarship awards $500 primarily for 1Ls who need financial assistance to purchase any suits or attire, especially with grades being released and then having on-campus interviews for their first summer job. We will be releasing applications by the end of this month or in early November.

You mentioned attending the Hispanic National Bar Association Annual Convention in Minneapolis. What was that like?

Yes, I am so glad I was able to go! I think the most important takeaway was there are people who look like me and speak like me in the legal profession, and I’m not alone. I was in awe at how everyone was so eager to help me out: “What are you doing when you graduate? Do you have a job lined up? No, you don’t. Okay, here, let me put you in contact with these people. What do you want to do? Come meet this person.” Everyone was incredibly sweet and very, very kind. They wanted to help because they were in our shoes at one point. The mentorship was insane! A lot of the attorneys were immediately like, “Here, take my business card. Call me if you have any questions or need anything. I want to get involved with Texas Law. Let’s start building these relationships.”

CHLLSA members at the Hispanic National Bar Association Annual Convention in Minneapolis.
CHLLSA members at the Hispanic National Bar Association Annual Convention in Minneapolis.

That sounds incredible.

It was very heartwarming to get to see that. We also met the Latino law student associations of different schools—from Oklahoma, Las Vegas, and Miami. It was cool because we got to talk about our experiences and share, “Hey, this is what we’re doing here. Oh, you’re doing that? You know what? That’s something that we can implement. Let’s come together.” I believe we were the only law student or Hispanic law student association from Texas that attended the conference. It was incredible getting to talk to everyone and learn what it means to be a Latino in this field.

Did you meet any Texas Law alums there?

There were a lot of Texas law alums. A previous president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, Elsa Manzanares ’01, is a Texas law alum. She became a big mentor to me. We grew our connection because of that conference. She was incredible and very instrumental and introduced me to everyone. From the very first night when I saw her and said “Hi,” she was like, “Here, I want you to talk to this person, talk to this person, and talk to this person.” Daniel Salomón Sotomayor ’22, a recent LLM who’s now practicing in New York, was at the conference. That was heartwarming because he was also a part of CHLLSA. I remembered seeing him when I was a 1L and he was a 3L. And Daniel was also very helpful with introducing all of us to people that he knew, and just finding that comfort.

It was nice to go full circle and start seeing the familiar faces in the field.

Does CHLLSA partner with Hispanic bar associations and other organizations? What sorts of help do they provide to our students?

Mentorship is one of the most important things, especially for those of us who do not want to practice in Austin, are looking into going back to our hometowns, or expanding our horizons and are open to practicing in different areas. Wherever we need to go, they have mentors available.

The Houston, Austin, and Dallas Bar Associations all have Hispanic Bar Associations. They also have lots of mentorship opportunities for us. We are heavily involved with the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin, and they have a mentorship program specifically for Texas Law students. We’re working on getting connected with the state bar’s Texas Minority Council Program, which is for all minority professionals coming together, including women and people of other races.

We also were invited to the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association gala. I’m working on getting Texas Law a lot more involved with the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association—trying to build those networks and connections, because a lot of our alums hold high positions there. They also have opportunities for student membership: We get the newsletters and opportunities to attend any of their events in town or remote. Sometimes they do in-house counsel panels, like what it means to be a judge, which help to expand our knowledge of the field.

CHLLSA members pose for a group photo.

You’re very busy! How can students who aren’t already involved with CHLLSA get connected? Can they attend your meetings?

Every meeting, we provide information on how students can join. Because we understand, sometimes they’re not able to attend or another meeting we’re talking about something that really interests them.

We try to host our meetings at least once every other week. We’re very active in either hosting a meeting or an event. They can check our social media for information. Students can pay dues if they want to be a dues-paying member. We also provide information on joining our GroupMe for more informal communication. If there’s an event going on, we share it with everyone through that platform, and that’s how we all stay connected.

What else should people know about CHLLSA?

Probably the most important thing is to get involved, because this is where I found my home away from home. This is where I have my familia. If it weren’t for CHLLSA, I would feel very lost at the law school. But I know that no matter what, my CHLLSA family has my back.

Students looking for additional information can follow CHLLSA’s social media accounts: @ut.chllsa on Instagram and @CHLLSAUT on Facebook. They can also email secretary.chlsa@gmail.com to get added to CHLLSA’s listserv and receive the weekly newsletter. 

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