Latina from Chicago’s South Side blazes trail to business law

DePaul law student Amanda Moncada visits Federal Plaza in Chicago, near the courthouse where she served as a judicial extern. Moncada blazed her own trail to the DePaul University College of Law, from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to a prestigious position on the DePaul Law Review and a full-time job in business law. She is among the 2014-15 graduates of the College of Law. (Photo by Jamie Moncrief)
It’s rarely good to scream on an airplane. Amanda Moncada was on a flight when she opened an email that made her feel like she could jump out of the window and fly. Moncada had made it through her first year at the DePaul College of Law and had a bold aspiration—she wanted to join the DePaul Law Review, the college’s scholarly law journal. A little voice inside her implored, “Could I make it? Maybe I could.” High above everything, the email confirmed that her hunch was correct. She could barely hold in that scream.

“It was a testament to my hard work, and I thought, ‘Wow, I must be doing something right,’” said Moncada. Her humble hunches and the “fervor to do well” have made Moncada’s successes at DePaul exemplary. She is a 2014-15 graduate of the DePaul College of Law, which will celebrate commencement May 17.

Discovering scholarship

Moncada grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and she was the first in her family to go to college. When she started her undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she wasn’t sure what it would take to succeed and her family wasn’t sure how to help. “But it was more than enough to have my family rooting me on,” she said.

So Moncada set out to simply do well in college and soon found everything she needed was within her: intelligence, drive and a passion for scholarship. She studied psychology and Spanish and graduated from U of I with honors. After graduation, Moncada channeled her passion for service into Teach for America and spent two years in Boston teaching second grade. Yet DePaul Law was always on Moncada’s radar. Michael Burns, associate dean for student services, had recruited her as an undergraduate, and Moncada was impressed by the “tremendous support” Burns and others offered throughout her time at DePaul.

“DePaul faculty are so willing to help students when they’re struggling. Each professor provided an open door, and I liked that very much,” she said.

Choosing business law

Moncada didn’t struggle for long. She went on to earn awards for excellence in four of her courses and thrived as the managing editor of Notes & Comments of the Law Review. “It’s funny. In the legal field, when you give good work, you get more work,” she said.

Moncada enjoyed taking lessons from the classroom and applying them when editing and writing with the Law Review. The journal published Moncada’s article on regulation, data breaches and the Federal Trade Commission’s role in protecting consumers.

“In a journal, you’re bringing your own voice to the law and suggesting changes,” she said. “It was an amazing way for me to branch out and expand my writing skills.”

When she started to think about which area of law interested her most, Moncada found her background in psychology had a lot in common with business. She looked for a chance to work with people, solve problems and help entrepreneurs.

“Businesses interact with an end goal in mind, and most of the time they are creating innovative ideas,” Moncada said. “As an attorney, I can be at the forefront with them, thinking things through, helping them bring their ideas to fruition.”

Moncada landed two coveted summer associate positions at top firms and sharpened her business law experience. She worked at Perkins Coie LLP as well as Sidley Austin LLP, where she has accepted a full-time position following graduation.

Trailblazing for other Latino lawyers

Moncada is proud of her Puerto Rican heritage and found support and great networking opportunities within the Latino law community. “Being Latina is a very big part of my identity,” Moncada said. “Latinos are few and far between in the legal profession.”

She joined the Latino Law Student Association and said she felt lucky that two prominent Latino judges, Ruben Castillo and Mark Lopez, both mentored her. Castillo is the first Latino to be chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and Moncada served as his judicial extern. Lopez is an associate judge in the domestic relations division of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

“Being coached by other Latinos who’ve been successful in the legal profession invigorates my passion to do the same. I want to trail blaze for aspiring Latino attorneys and let them know I’m a helping hand,” she said.

Dad knew dream would come true

Moncada’s father always told her, “The world is yours. You can do anything you want.” When she first confided in him that she wanted to be an attorney, he told her, “Well, you’re going to do it.” She teased him and said of course he thought that. He was her dad.

When the letter about commencement arrived in Moncada’s mailbox, she looked at it and burst into tears. She told her father, “Dreams do come true. I can’t believe that I’m actually going to graduate and fulfill a dream I told you I had so long ago.”

Moncada said she knows this is just the beginning of a long career and a long journey ahead. “I’m so thankful for everyone who’s helped me along the way, and I think I’m just getting started,” she said.

Her dad has planned a string of events to celebrate. “I think I’m just going to sit back and take it all in.”

Story and photo courtesy of DePaul Newsroom. This is one in a series of stories about DePaul University graduates from the Class of 2015.