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Student Spotlight: Stefani Perez ('20)

Stefani Perez
Stefan​i Perez ('20) is the current president of the Student Bar Association (SBA) and the former president of the Latino Law Student Association (LLSA) (2018-2019), and has participated on moot court teams and the student board. Martha Pagliari, director of the College of Law's Legal Analysis, Research & Communication program and faculty advisor to the Moot Court Society, describes her as a “fierce competitor, as well as a wonderful mentor for the newer members of the team. She has been a joy to work with."

Q. What inspired you to go to law school? What did you do before entering law school?

I realized that I wanted to go to law school in high school. As a student, I took one of those career assessment tests. The first result said 'business,' but the second said 'law or government'. Law sounded more interesting, and my friends were like 'we can see you as a lawyer,' so it made a lot of sense.

On top of that, growing up, my parents worked in a meatpacking plant. One day during middle school, I came home from school and they were watching a news story about an ICE raid at a meatpacking plant in a neighboring state. The news story also showed hundreds of children whose parents had been arrested by ICE. I remember really wanting to somehow help these people. One way to help people like them who had been affected by the ICE was by being an attorney. 

As an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (double major in Political Science and Spanish Translation and Interpretation with a minor in Criminal Justice), I was super involved in different organizations. For a while, I thought about going into student affairs and pursuing a degree that would allow me to work with first-generation minority students. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to pursue something within the legal field.

Q. What were some of your most notable accomplishments as an undergrad?

One of my most notable accomplishments was getting to share my research in Washington, DC.  The research involved comparing community involvement within a group of people who previously lived in Mexico then moved to a Midwestern state. I found that when this particular group of people lived in Mexico, they were more often involved in social groups in their communities (soccer leagues, church groups, etc.). After moving to the US, they were less likely to be involved in social groups in their communities.

I got involved in that starting my freshman year when my Introduction to American Government professor asked if I'd be interested in participating. Initially, I thought 'I'm not doing research. That sounds really boring actually.' But after talking to him about it, he said 'you could pick anything to research if you want to. It doesn't necessarily have to be within your major but the background knowledge would help.' So, I'm like, 'okay, I'll try it.' And then he said, 'you would also get paid for it.' And I'm like, 'okay, I'll definitely try it.'

It wasn't much, but I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun. I got to go to DC. I also got to go to Portland, Oregon, for a national political science association conference. It was a really great and unique experience.

Q. Was there any specific reason you came to DePaul?

I grew up in a pretty small town in Nebraska and wanted to get out of the small-town life after I graduated college. I came to Chicago a couple times during college and from the very first time, I instantly fell in love with the city and everyone was very friendly. Once I was in the process of applying for law schools and figuring out where I could see myself, my gut instinct was to stay in Nebraska because it was comfortable. I knew people in Nebraska; my family's there. But there was something inside me that's like, 'you don't have to say in Nebraska. This is a good time for you to branch out and see what else is out there.'

I considered a few other law schools in Chicago, but DePaul really stood out to me, because from the day that I was accepted, everyone from DePaul who I came in contact with was always really helpful!

Q. Why did you decide to run for SBA president? What are your duties?

I chose to run for president of the SBA, because I've always enjoyed being part of student organizations, and I wanted to be part of a group at DePaul that can help make a difference for the good of the student body. My duties include overseeing all of SBA's programming and also acting as a liaison between students and the administration.

In college, one regret I had was never being involved in student government. I always wanted to be involved but didn't have the time because I was too focused on other things. But as a 2L, I was a senator and on the Diversity Committee and on the Executive Steering Committee, which helps the president execute her duties. Being on that committee, I got to see what the president did—or at least a snippet anyway–and felt that I could do it.

Q. What are the changes you've made as SBA president, or the changes you'd like to see?

One of the things my vice president (and former roommate) Mariah Whitner ('20) and I wanted to focus on was diversity and inclusion. She is also a woman of color, and that's something that was super important to us. DePaul is a pretty diverse law school, but we don't see a lot of diversity in other law schools, because the legal profession has a long way to go when it comes to diversity. We want to make DePaul a safe space for everybody. 

Another thing was making the SBA more accessible to students, meaning if they ever have any sort of concerns they could come talk to us. At the end of the day, that's why SBA is here–to be a conduit between the students and the administration. I understand it can be very intimidating going to the administration and airing out your grievances. A couple of students have asked us to talk to the administration on their behalf and we're like, 'of course, we will let them know what's going on and take it from there.'

Q. What are some of the programs you've instituted?

 A major thing is continuing Diversity Week. We really wanted to focus on intersectionality, because there's so many crossovers of diversity that we often forget about. I also feel when we talk about diversity and inclusion, inclusion is sometimes left out of the conversation. With the Diversity Committee chair, we teamed up different affinity organizations at the law school that typically don't work together. For example, Outlaws (the LGBTQ+ group) teamed up with LLSA for a program on trans immigration. This was a really cool program, because it focused on issues going on at the border, including family separation and the mistreatment of people who identify as trans.

Another thing we've tried is more programming that involves evening students. That's a challenge not just for SBA but for every single student organization, because we have this block between 12:00-1:00 p.m. when a lot of student organizations host their meetings. This works out great for the day students but can be difficult for evening students who are at home or work. We've definitely tried harder this year. We had a “Meet the SBA" event first semester for evening students and a few of them came out. They were really happy that there was an event that catered to them and their schedules.

Q. As the president of LLSA, what were some of your most notable programs or projects?

Every spring, the organization hosts the ILLSA Forum, which stands for the Illinois LatinX Law Student Association Forum. On a Saturday, we invite high school and college students who are interested in pursuing something within the legal field or in the legal profession. They can come out, get exposed to what law school is like, what being a practicing attorney is like, and network with practicing attorneys. We have a long way to go when it comes to diversity in this profession, and programming like this makes the idea of being a lawyer seem more attainable, especially if you don't have any lawyers in your background.

Q. What can you tell us about your moot court experience?

I've participated in two Hispanic National Bar Association Uvaldo Herrera Moot Court Competitions in law school. The first year's fact pattern involved a reporter who had his hard press pass revoked after punching another reporter. We looked at issues such as the First Amendment freedom of speech implications and whether revoking the pass was a violation of due process.

This year's fact pattern is based on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and whether eliminating that policy violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. My team has to argue for the Department of Homeland Security. This is very interesting for me personally, because I don't agree with that side's position, but it's a competition and when you're practicing for oral arguments, you have to prepare for both sides and should know counter arguments. After all, that's what being an attorney is all about—knowing both sides of an argument.

Q. What do you plan to do after you complete law school? Any particular areas of interest?

I'm interested in civil litigation. Growing up, my only idea of an attorney was somebody who was in the courtroom, somebody who was in front of a judge and arguing with opposing counsel. It wasn't until I got to law school that I grew to understand transactional work. My internship after the first year was at a bigger firm, so I got exposed to different practice areas (e.g., negotiations, mergers, privacy agreements), but the ones that interested me the most were those that did litigation. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed completing the transactional assignments because a lot of the relevant transactional skills translate into litigation.  Settlement is big in civil litigation, so having negotiation skills really helps.

Q. What is it about litigation that really appeals to you?

Some of it is the adrenaline that I feel when I'm in a courtroom, but what really appeals to me is the tangible nature of it. With transactions/negotiations, it was like both sides were winning. With litigation, either your client wins or they don't. That really, really appeals to me, because that makes me think 'I'm going to work that much harder for my client and be the best advocate that I can be.'

I don't have a specific area of civil litigation that I'm interested in. I've done some labor and employment law, personal injury, corporate litigation, medical malpractice, but I'm still trying to decide what I want to officially pursue!

 Q. What advice do you have for any aspiring law students?

Maybe the biggest piece of advice would be that law school is tough, but it's also very doable. Don't worry about what everybody else is doing. The study method that works for one person won't necessarily work for you. You really just have to do what works best for you—even if that means studying differently than you did in college. Don't be afraid of adapting and trying new things.  As long as it works for you, you get your work done, and you see the results that you want.