Pursuing a Law Degree and Advocating for Representation in Law
by Elaine Fernandez
Voices of Making Waves: Meet Brenda Quintanilla
Brenda Quintanilla is on her way to becoming a lawyer.
A Wave-Maker and graduate of Loyola Marymount University, she is currently a second-year student at the UC Davis School of Law, working hard every day to achieve her dreams.
She stated, “I’ve always wanted to go to law school. It’s been a passion of mine since I was 13 years old, so I started studying for the LSAT while I was working.”
“I am an immigrant, and my entire family are all immigrants. We immigrated from El Salvador, and from a very young age I saw first-hand how different our experiences and lived realities were just because of this identity of ours,” stated Brenda.
“I saw how many people in my community didn’t have people to advocate on behalf of them or inform them of their rights. I felt like we need representation, and we need people who can advocate for us. I knew that the best way for me to become that person was to go to law school.”
A passion for law
When Brenda was 13, her father went to jail, and she and her family had to navigate the criminal justice system with him.
“Seeing how unfairly men of color in particular are treated in the system, and on top of that, if you’re not a citizen, the additional kind of barriers that there are to you getting any kind of rightful solution really inspired me more in my decision to go to law school,” she shared.
Brenda said, “Everything I have done has led up to this moment. I feel really lucky and privileged to get to be in law school because not everyone gets to have access to this kind of education.”
After these experiences, Brenda began to involve herself in extracurricular activities that were related to pre-law, including fellowships that helped her cover the costs of LSAT courses and law school applications.
Offering access and fighting for representation
Brenda shared how for a long time she had no idea who to turn to for any help or questions and she was only able to find things if she searched for hours or had fellowships that could give her answers.
Brenda highlighted how crucial access is for entering the field of law.
“There’s not many of us [DACA students] in professional or graduate school, but even more so, in law school. We’re not well represented in these spaces and that’s not including women identifying students as then the number drops even more in this field.”
“I feel like the only way to increase those numbers is to make it more accessible and not make it seem such an elitist profession,” said Brenda.
“People think that you can only be an attorney if your dad was a lawyer or if your uncle was a judge and of course it’s harder for people who don’t have legacies, but it’s not impossible.”
Brenda believed she could help others through documenting her experience in law school through her Instagram account @3percent_lawtinas. “I wanted my Instagram account to be a resource, especially as a woman of color.” Brenda has shifted her advocacy to doing work on how to support DACA students, but she hopes to become more active in the upcoming months!
Setting the Wave-Maker standard
Brenda affirmed that Making Waves helped make her the scholar she is. Having been a part of the first graduating class from Making Waves Academy, she said Making Waves taught her about organization, professional development, and time management from a young age. “I think that brought me a lot of confidence in being a leader and being entrepreneurial.”
“I’m very grateful for Making Waves because it’s a tight-knit community and they really watch out for you. In a way they become like your second parents.”
Brenda highlighted, “they do important work with underserved communities and those are values that align with my own personal values. It’s reaffirming as to why I’m still in touch with Making Waves because I generally believe that they believe in their core values and take action.”
Words of advice
Brenda advises people interested in going into law or law school to find financial resources to alleviate financial costs and find the right mentors who’ve been to law school before.
She states, “They can tell you exactly what the process is and how to do it. From there, you can just follow their steps. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.”
The advice Brenda has for Wave-Makers is to not take Making Waves for granted. She exclaimed, “It’s very rare for programs like Making Waves to exist and to have the human capacity to offer so much love and labor onto students while truly being concerned about their wellbeing.”
“We are all going to be part of each other’s network and in each other’s community. Staying in touch with those core values and remembering who we are and where we came from is crucial because many of us came from the same community.”
This Voices of Making Waves storytelling series spotlights the voices and journeys of the students and alumni in our Making Waves Education Foundation and Making Waves Academy communities.
ABOUT MAKING WAVES Education FOUNDATION
At Making Waves, we are committed to educational equity. Making Waves Education Foundation is a Bay Area nonprofit that supports Making Waves Academy – a public charter school with more than 1,100 5th through 12th grade students – and leads college and career programming with more than 500 college students.
Knowing the opportunities that come with a college degree, we partner with historically underrepresented and underserved students to help make college affordable and graduation attainable. Centering the journeys of our students, our personalized approach includes college and career coaching, scholarships, and financial planning.
Our alumni network includes more than 630 college graduates, who earn their degrees and land jobs at more than twice the rate of their first-generation, low-income peers, with 85% graduating debt-free.