Hispanic National Bar Foundation
In 1985, members of the Hispanic legal community recognized that the lack of opportunities, role models, and financial support had prevented many Hispanics from becoming leaders in their communities. These visionaries came together to establish the Hispanic National Bar Foundation (HNBF) to empower the Hispanic community through education. Since its inception, the HNBF has been active in helping Hispanic lawyers not only to advance but to thrive, lending a hand to future Hispanic lawyers. The HNBF has worked to increase the number of Hispanic lawyers and their influence in American society
The HNBF’s early activity was to provide financial support, in the form of scholarships, to the next generation of Hispanic leaders. The HNBF has evolved to also offer programs, tools, and resources to support and inspire Hispanic students from high school through law school in order to provide opportunities that their predecessors lacked. Through these efforts, young Hispanics have taken advantage of greater opportunities. Students who never thought they had the talent or the opportunity to pursue a career in law have been shown that others like them have made it, and those students have been provided the resources to make it themselves. Sometimes the encouragement and perspective that the HNBF offers is all it takes to inspire greatness.
Cynthia Carrasco, executive director of the HNBF, is rightly proud to be a part of an organization that has a significant role in the Hispanic community. “The HNBF has been dedicated to charitable and educational purposes focused on the Hispanic community,” she shares. “Over the years, voluntary contributions from companies, law firms, and private donors have enabled the HNBF to support students. The HNBF has continually offered information on higher education, scholarships, and pipeline programs to students interested in pursuing a legal education.”
Having only served a year in her current position, her primary responsibilities include program implementation, fundraising, and building awareness of the foundation’s role within the Hispanic community and the legal community as a whole. Carrasco meets her responsibilities with the support of a highly dedicated and experienced president and board of directors to achieve the HNBF’s goals: “Working under HNBF president Mayda Prego, together with a board of directors comprised of prominent lawyers from major law firms, corporate legal departments, and the government, has increased the reach of the foundation through the development of innovative programs. I have enjoyed working with Mayda to elevate the HNBF’s national recognition by fostering the next generation of Latino leaders with programs geared toward increasing diversity in the legal profession.”
Prego, senior counsel at Chevron, is committed to growing the reach of the foundation beyond supporting students to include practicing Hispanic attorneys. “I am honored to serve as president for the HNBF, and I am proud how our programs impact the lives of Hispanic students and their families.”
Prego, who has served on the HNBF board for a number of years (including as its treasurer) and has also held leadership positions with the Hispanic National Bar Association, is keenly aware of the importance of diversity in the legal profession. “While many organizations have discussed the lack of diversity in the legal profession, we have developed programming that addresses the issue. For instance, this year we launched the HNBF Law Fellows Program as a tangible solution to address the issue of lack of diversity in corporate legal departments. The program already has been an enormous success — in large part due to the support of Comcast, our Founding Sponsor of this initiative.”
The Law Fellows Program provides law students with a “backstage pass” that expands their understanding of what it means to pursue an in-house legal career. These interns thus have an opportunity to maintain ties with their mentors in these various companies, and to work in–house in the years to come. Because of its initial success, this program will become a fixture among the foundation’s activities.
In addition, the HNBF conducts the Future Latino Leaders Law Camp, which provides high-school students from around the United States with the opportunity to spend a week at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., learning about the legal profession from leaders in the Hispanic community. Students participating in the program compete in a mock trial, with guidance from law students who serve as camp counselors. Over the five years of the program’s existence, more than 100 students have completed the program’s curriculum.
These HNBF programs and others hope to channel more Hispanics into the pipeline to ensure the diversity of tomorrow’s legal workforce. “We plan to continue providing quality programming to students, growing the organization in order to impact more students, and to expand our programs with the goal of diversifying the legal profession,” observes Prego. “For that effort, we are also building stronger relationships with law schools, law firms, and corporations. For example, we have launched a securities–enforcement class at Florida International University Law School, in collaboration with leading attorneys from the Securities and Exchange Commission and securities-law experts, to encourage more Hispanic students to pursue career paths in securities law. “The HNBF is at the forefront of training and developing the skills of future Hispanic lawyers in corporate and financial regulation, a important area of law given the current economic climate.”
In 2007, the HNBF started a tradition of honoring leaders in the Hispanic legal community at the HNBF Annual Awards Dinner. Held in July, the event provides an opportunity for the HNBF and its supporters to come together and personally meet the students who participate in its programs and learn from those community leaders who serve as role models for our students. Prego describes the event as “a time to celebrate our achievements and inspire our students to meet their goals through education.”
The HNBF believes that ensuring diversity and inclusiveness in the legal profession begins well before law firms and corporate law departments make their hiring decisions. The bedrock for that diversity is developed at law school, and before that in the colleges and universities — and before that in the high schools. By providing opportunities and encouragement to the students of today, the HNBF helps to equip them to become the lawyers and judges of tomorrow. DB
Francisco Ramos Jr., Esq., is a freelance writer and partner at the Miami-based offices of Clarke Silvergate Campbell.
From the November/December 2009 issue of Diversity & The Bar®