Interview With Latisha Taylor Rivera: Attorney, Assertive, and All Around Badass

Q: Where were you born?

A: Mt. Holly, New Jersey

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: Everywhere! I’m an Army Brat but Texas is my home though. I spent the most time there. Puerto Rico is also home. Germany is a close third.

Q: What was your childhood and/or adolescence like?

A: I was raised with my older brother by our single mother. Growing up I can truly say that I never felt my father’s absence. I was raised with the unit of my brother and my Mami and it always just felt normal. I’m positive it was a struggle for my Ma and for my brother as well but the three of us are pretty tight, regardless. I also spent 8th grade through high school graduation in Heidelberg, Germany so you can say my teenage years were definitely not like the norm. All of these experiences molded me into who I am today so I’m overflowing grateful.

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Q: Who were your biggest influences growing up?

A: My mami without a doubt! She taught me to be determined, relentless and not to take any sh*t from anyone.

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Q: Did you always know you wanted to attend law school and become an attorney? 

A: I realized I wanted to become an attorney around twelve years old. Everyone always asks me what made it “click” for me and honestly I don’t know. I just decided one day. Maybe that’s what it feels like to know your calling. I’ve always just known that this is what I would end up doing and I love it. As I’ve grown older, I knew that I wanted to be an immigration attorney because I wanted to be able to advocate for those that could not do so for themselves. I knew that Immigrants were the community of people I most desired to help because they are MY community. My mother was born and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and my father born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. Having such a diverse background and spending so much of my life outside of the United States exposed me to so many different shades and cultures which furthered my commitment to Immigration Law.

Q: Did you attend law school right after undergrad?

A: I was a December graduate so I waited until August to start at Howard Law. Howard doesn’t offer spring registration so I worked 2-3 jobs until that August when I moved from Texas to D.C.

Q: Did you receive any help in applying to law school? 

My mami and my sister in law paid for a few of my application fees but, aside from that, I did it all on my own. I had no one to look over my personal statements, advise me about the LSAT, or mentor me about law school or the application process. Neither of my parents are lawyers nor my brother or sister. I just struggled through it on my own and thankfully it worked out!

Q: What was law school like for you?

A: A blast! I hear so many people say so many disparaging things about their experience in law school but I truly had the best time of my life. Attending an HBCU was such an amazing experience for me. Attending Howard was the best decision I could have ever made. Law school is essentially designed to pit you against one another in that constant desperation to literally be ahead of the curve. But, at my law school, we were and are still truly a community dedicated to uplifting each other every step of the way. I also met my husband there, who is also an attorney, so I may be a little biased. Haha.

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Q: What advice would you give to someone who is about to embark on their first year of law school?

A: Stay dedicated. I say this because that first semester of law school is such a humbling experience. Some of us have gone through life always feelings like we work the hardest or we are the smartest but let me tell you, that first semester of law school will break you—even if you come out on top. You have to learn to think different, study different, take tests differently, take constructive criticism and become open to an entirely different way of life. So, stay dedicated because it does get better.

Q: Which year of law school do you consider your most difficult and why?

A: Hands down my third year of law school. I was one of the Captains of my Trial Advocacy team, Executive Solicitations Editors for our Law Review and took (and passed) the Texas Bar Exam prior to graduation. I also took like max amount of credit hours one semester. It was insanity. I lost almost 20 pounds from stress my LAST semester of law school. Totally the opposite of what everyone else goes through. I wouldn’t have done it any other way though.

Q: What kind of organizations or activities were you involved in in law school?

A: Trial Advocacy Team, Law Review and I was one of the organizers of Alternative Spring Break (ASB). During ASB, a group of law students volunteers at a specific destination for an underserved population during their Spring Break. The year that I was an organizer, we went to New Orleans and I worked at the Innocence Project reviewing cases of those that were wrongly convicted, awaiting appeal on Death Row and sought exoneration.

Q: Did you ever feel like you weren’t going to make it to graduation?

A: Nope. My tribe would never ever let me even go there.

Q: What or who helped you push through?

A: Myself. My mami. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband!), my best friends and my Trial Ad Coach.

Q: What year did you graduate from law school?

A: 2015

Q: What kind of law do you practice?

A: Crimmigration. For those that don’t know, it’s the intersection of Criminal Defense and Immigration. I do both separately though. On the criminal side I do mainly low level assaults, DUI, and traffic. Immigration I do removal defense (detained and non detained), and USCIS based cases like SIJS, adjustment of status, U visas, affirmative asylum, VAWA, Naturalization, etc. I also practice a little personal injury (motor tort collisions) as well.

Q: How did you decide on that area of law?

A: I love Immigration and Criminal Defense. They appeal to me so much! But, the joy I get when I get a client out of jail (specifically when they’re wrongly accused or unjustly held) is like no other.

Q: What is your current position and how did you obtain it? 

A: I’m a junior associate at a small law firm—St. Laurent & Associates. I supervise one attorney and my two legal assistants. I truly lucked up at this job. When I graduated law school, even though I was already technically an attorney (licensed in Texas), I still worked as a paralegal while I studied for the Maryland Bar. After taking the Bar, I went to work at a midsize Immigration firm on a temp basis as a law clerk and then, six months after I graduated law school, my (now) husband forwarded me the job posting for the job I’m at now. It was seeking an entry level associate to help grow the Immigration part of the firm. Almost 4 years later, I’ve quadrupled the amount of Immigration cases that the firm handles as well as expanded our practice areas. It’s been A LOT of work and many many sleepless nights but I have great people surrounding me that have always believed in me, supported me, and helped me grow.

Q: What does a typical work day look like for you?

A: Insanity. Just kidding…slightly. It truly varies but it generally includes: consultations, a jail visit, a court hearing, supervisory craziness and catching up on emails and call backs to clients.

Q: In three words, can you describe what it is like to be a young, female attorney starting her career in the legal field?

A: Challenging yet rewarding.

Q: Have you experienced any situations where you were given a difficult time or underestimated in some capacity because of your age or gender? 

A: So many times! I became an attorney at 24. That’s hard enough but as a woman of color my frustrations have been amplified by 100 over the past 4 years.  I’ve been confused for the defendant, the client, the interpreter, my boss’s daughter—you name it! I’ve had clients tell me that they would rather my boss represent them cause he’s a man.

But, one time, there was such a subtle occurrence that I didn’t even notice but a client caught it and schooled me.

Let me set the scene.

It was during a pre-trial conference. My client was with me and I was taking the lead during this conference while my boss was there supervising me. At the end of the conference, opposing counsel shook everyone’s hand but mine. She was a white woman and honestly I didn’t even notice. But, my client noticed. He pulled me to the side and said “ Attorney Rivera, that woman shook everyone’s hand in there but yours. Never let that happen again. You are competent and you are capable. If need be, you walk up to her and you shake her hand or his hand first. Period. Just like this. When you let things like that happen, you are showing them that you doubt yourself and your worth.” Then he demonstrated how it should go next time, hand shake and all. I will NEVER forget that.

That was a “minor” situation, there’s been way more though.

Q: Many people have a desire to apply to and attend law school or other post-graduate programs, but are concerned with the debt they will likely accrue in doing so. What would you say to those people?

A: Do it! I mean definitely try to take advantage of every scholarship out there but if you have to take out some student loans-do it. Pay attention to APRs and private versus government (my vote is government) but if you stay dedicated—the amount of loans you accrue will pale in comparison to reaching your goals and living your dream.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your career? 

A: Helping those who need it most! Life is so very fragile. Doing this job has given my life purpose and every second that I’m breathing I know that I’m making a difference. Should I breathe my last breath soon, I know that I will leave this Earth having made a difference in the lives of others and that’s what I feel God sent me here to do.

Q: What advice would you give your younger self?

A: Tell your Mami more how much you appreciate her. I truly never realized how amazing my Ma was and is until I got where I am now. Her uniforms hang in a women’s museum! I mean, that’s pretty impressive. But, more than that, handling me and my brother as a single mother while climbing to such a position of power as a Command Sergeant Major in the U.S. Military is pretty amazing. All the discrimination that she went through, all the doubts because her English wasn’t always perfect nor fluent, all the late nights, all the mom guilt, all of it—she powered through it. She’s one of a kind. There cannot and will not ever be another like her.

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MEET ATTORNEY LATISHA TAYLOR RIVERA

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As the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and Jamaican father, Attorney Rivera has always had a natural passion for Immigration Law. She channels this passion into fighting for each of the Firm’s immigration clients-ensuring that she helps find a voice for the voiceless. Attorney Rivera is a graduate of the University of Texas-San Antonio as well a law graduate of Howard University School of Law. While at Howard, she excelled as one of the captains of the Huver I Brown Trial Advocacy Team, the Executive Solicitations Editor for the Howard Human and Civil Rights Law Review (formerly known as the Human Rights & Globalization Law Review) and founded the Immigration Law Society. During her tenure at Howard Law, Attorney Rivera also sat for and passed the Texas Bar Exam prior to graduation. She is also admitted to the Maryland Bar.

She is currently a junior associate, supervising attorney and Crimmigration practitioner at St. Laurent & Associates located in Baltimore, MD. She also, somehow, finds the time to manage her household and keep it together for her husband, teenage stepson, and two adorable pups.

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