Trailblazing talent

First-generation law graduates share their success stories

Being a law student isn’t easy—just ask any 1L. But for those who are the first in their families to attend law school, there can sometimes be additional challenges. “You’re trying to figure it out without knowing anyone who’s been through what you’re going through,” says Joseph Ho (JD ’22).

Loyola University Chicago School of Law is fully committed to supporting the first-generation experience, and first-generation law students have spearheaded several organizations and initiatives to help students navigate hurdles unique to that population. With 72 percent of Loyola’s current first-year law class identifying as first-generation, these resources provide valuable support and help position students to become successful graduates.

Here, three recent School of Law alumni share thoughts on their careers, the obstacles they’ve overcome, and their top advice for first-generation students.

Daihana Estrada (JD ’21)

Court of Appeals Law Clerk to the Honorable Peter M. Reyes, Jr.; Commissioner to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities
St. Paul, Minn.

Backstory: Daihana Estrada (JD ’21) is forthcoming about the challenges she’s faced. After her parents were deported to Mexico, Estrada experienced homelessness and domestic violence. 

Estrada credits the many people who have supported her along her journey. One of those people was Mary Bird, the Curt and Linda Rodin Social Justice Leader-in-Residence and director of public service programs. The two women met at a scholarship ceremony when Estrada was attending the University of Illinois at Chicago. Bird told Estrada to stay in touch. 

“She really believed in me and advocated for me,” Estrada says. “That’s partly why I am where I am today.” 

“As a first-generation law student, you’re most likely to feel imposter syndrome, and that’s okay to feel that way, but also own where you’re at”

On clerking: “I’m learning to understand how a judge thinks and comes to a decision on a case. That’s important for me because I want to become a judge one day. As a law clerk, I’m responsible for drafting bench memos and opinions. Bench memos are memos giving recommendations to a panel of three judges about what I would recommend for that particular case. After the oral argument on the case, I meet with my judge, and we discuss the case and start opinion drafting. It is a very interactive and collaborative experience, and I really love that. I’m learning a lot.”

Advice for first-generation students: “As a first-generation law student, you’re most likely to feel imposter syndrome, and that’s okay to feel that way, but also own where you’re at. Remember that you are absolutely qualified to be in these spaces and deserve to be there. So be confident in who you are and what you bring to the table. And when things get hard, remind yourself why you started this journey and push forward. You got this!”

Joseph Ho (JD ’22)

Associate Attorney, Hall Render

Backstory: Joseph Ho (JD ’22) grew up as a sports-loving kid in Philadelphia. At Temple University, he ran track and studied kinesiology, thinking he might become a physical therapist. When a professor mentioned public health and law as possible career trajectories, Ho decided to investigate further. After college, Ho headed to Florida State University for a master’s in public health—and then continued his educational journey at Loyola Law.

“When you’re first-gen, you might feel a little isolated. …You’ve gotten this far, so continue to believe in yourself.”

Who inspires him: “My dad. He came over from Vietnam. For 20 years, he worked the night shift, and he didn’t speak English. He really showed me what hard work was and what grit and determination look like. That laid a foundation in my life, and it allowed me to persevere through the tough times. It’s tough to become a law school grad, let alone a private practice attorney. You have to be resilient, persevere and take on challenges—and not just withstand challenges but keep trying to grow. It’s an incredible honor to be here and for my dad to have given me the opportunities I’ve had.”

Advice for first-generation students: “Seek out a community. When you’re first-gen, you might feel a little isolated; your family hasn’t experienced what you’re experiencing. I couldn’t have made it through law school or the Bar without my best friends from Loyola and my professors. Also, you’ve gotten this far, so continue to believe in yourself.”

B. Alvarez (JD ’21)

Compliance Counsel, Novomatic Americas Sales
Buffalo Grove

Backstory: B. Alvarez (JD ’21) grew up in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago surrounded by Guatemalan relatives, including her grandmother. “She worked in a factory for 30 years, six days a week, 12-hour days, on her feet all the time,” Alvarez says. “I look at that hard work, and I just continue to tell myself her sacrifice can’t be for nothing.”

Alvarez double-majored in anthropology and comparative American studies at Oberlin College before returning to the Windy City for law school. At Loyola, Alvarez cofounded the First Generation Law Students organization, served as vice president of the Student Bar Association, and was president of the Latinx Law Student Association. An internship with Lindsey Johnson, director of continuing  legal education and online communications, evolved into a mentoring relationship that Alvarez still values today.

“Lindsey is also first generation, and she has the biggest heart and soul in the world,” Alvarez says, crediting Johnson for alerting her to specific job opportunities.

“Deans are there to help you, and you’d be surprised how many of them either identify with the first-generation experience or are first-generation themselves.”

Most fulfilling part of her career: “Knowing that I’m helping people,” Alvarez says. In her previous job, people reached out with concerns about serious issues such as identity theft. She enjoyed working on the investigation and reassuring clients that everything would be OK. “It might seem small, but we can give people peace of mind about something that might really be worrying them.”

Advice for first-generation students: “Make connections with professors and staff. Deans are there to help you, and you’d be surprised how many of them either identify with the first-generation experience or are first-generation themselves. They really do want to help. Be open to making those connections.” –Kelsey Schagemann (March 2023)

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