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Erika Rivera: President, La Raza Law Student Association, Santa Clara University School of Law, Santa Clara, CA

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<<"La Raza focuses on retaining Latino law students and creating volunteer opportunities within the surrounding communities that benefit both law students and people who need legal assistance but have no way of paying for it," Rivera said. "We hold monthly general meetings to check in with our membership and identify problems or concerns that they have regarding their law school experience. Above all, La Raza focuses on being a resource for our current law students, for anyone who is thinking about attending law school, and to our surrounding communities."

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Rivera graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 2002. As an undergrad, she double-majored in political science and international development studies. Rivera decided to go to law school because she wanted to be able to help improve the quality of life for others and serve her community.

"My family and I immigrated to the United States right before the civil war in El Salvador began. My parents left El Salvador to give me and my brothers more opportunities and to provide us with a better life," she said. "I want to facilitate that possibility for other families. I firmly believe that [in the words of Mexican American labor leader Cesar Chavez] 'the end of all education should be service to others.'"

Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, Rivera is the oldest child in her family. She's also the first person in her family to earn a bachelor's degree.

"My family is very close-knit, and they are my strongest support system. They calm me down when I am stressed, and they support me in everything that I do," she said.

In fact, it is her family that Rivera credits for keeping her grounded during law school.

"They remind me that I came to law school to help those that have little access to legal services and to change the world just a little," she said.

Rivera, who will be graduating in May 2007 if everything goes as planned, is excited about being a 3L.

"We have folders that hang in the student lounge, and they are divided up by what year in school you are. Towards the end of the summer, someone moves the folders to their new location," she said. "I walked into the lounge in early August and saw my folder in the third-year section. I almost cried!"

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"I am so happy to be in my last year of law school," she said, "though I guess that means the bar [exam] is right around the corner."

In the future, Rivera said she wants to become a solo practitioner and specialize in the area of immigration law or work for a nonprofit organization that serves underserved communities.

So far, Rivera's favorite law school course has been Critical Race Theory, taught by Professor Ida Bostian.

"I loved that class because we discussed racial issues in conjunction with the legal world," she said. "It was one of the few classes where the plaintiffs weren't faceless people who just served the purpose of providing law students with the black letter law. The law isn't created in a societal vacuum, and therefore, we cannot always assume that it is objective."

During her time in law school, Rivera has interned as a law clerk at Bay Area Legal Aid and served on the President's Blue Ribbon Commission for Diversity. She encourages students who are interested in doing internships to ask their friends and professors about internship openings and ideas.

"My experience has been that you can find internships through research, but most opportunities were brought to my attention through my fellow classmates or professors who know what areas of law I am interested in," she said.

In addition to her internships, Rivera has also gotten involved in activities outside of law school in order to gain some real-world experience before she graduates.

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"Most of what you learn in law school doesn't really teach you to be an attorney," she said. "So, I have made it a point to participate in direct-services clinics and volunteer opportunities. I not only gain experience, but I also am reminded why I came to law school."

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