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  • InsideTrack
  • November 03, 2021

    Rebeca López: Supporting Hispanic Lawyers in Wisconsin

    Rebeca M. López is vice president of the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association, an organization that boosts the careers of Latinx lawyers across Wisconsin. Find out more about López and the WHLA.

    Rebeca M. Lopez

    Rebeca López with husband

    Rebeca López poses with her husband, Marco, in this recent photo.

    Nov. 3, 2021 – Meet Rebeca M. López, vice president of the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association (WHLA), the organization that advances professional development of its members and advises on issues of interest to the Hispanic community on a local and national level.

    This profile is part of an ongoing series introducing you to the leaders of Wisconsin law-related organizations that serve diverse communities.

    López is an attorney with Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., Milwaukee, where she practices employment law.

    What events shaped your decision to become a lawyer?

    I grew up on the near south side of Milwaukee. My father dreamed for me to practice law from a young age. He shared his aspiration often throughout my childhood and was disappointed that I wanted to perform ballet folklorico (regional dances from Mexico) when I was younger. Needless to say, my dancing skills were not at a professional level, and his alternative career goals were better placed.

    Although no one from my parents’ or older family generations practiced law, we were taught how to be advocates from a young age. Like many other children in our community, my cousins and I accompanied relatives to medical and other appointments and helped with translations. Through these experiences, we learned how to ask questions and advocate for one another.

    I attended Milwaukee public schools, graduated from Milwaukee School of Languages, and went on to earn my bachelor’s degree from Marquette University with majors in international studies and Spanish.

    Rebeca López with daughter Aerial

    In this recent photo, Rebeca López, right, proudly wears her “Wisconsin Mom” t-shirt as she poses with her daughter, Aerial López, with the Capitol Building in Madison behind them, during UW-Madison’s move-in day.

    What finally motivated you to enter law school?

    My husband and I were young parents, which meant we worked long hours while I earned my undergraduate degree to help support our young family. During my junior year in college, I was hired by then-U.S. Senator Russ Feingold as an immigration caseworker and regional coordinator. For nearly seven years I worked for his office, to help serve the people of Wisconsin, responding to concerns about policy and removing bureaucratic obstacles faced by the senator’s constituents.

    During that time, I developed and implemented a statewide Latinx outreach program, building relationships to more effectively understand and advocate for legislation and services to benefit the Latinx community. I eventually managed the senator’s Milwaukee district office.

    My work helping families and individuals navigate the immigration process motivated me to attend law school. I wanted to be a stronger and more effective advocate for the people I served.

    Through the experiences working in Sen. Feingold’s office, seeing the challenges to obtaining services and the disparities in the legal system, I began to appreciate the value a law degree provided. I came to share my father’s vision and identify the advantages of a legal career for my young family and our community. I started law school at the age of 27.

    Why did you join WHLA?

    I learned about WHLA while in law school and decided to join to support WHLA’s mission. I initially decided to join WHLA to remain connected with other attorneys who supported me before, during, and after law school. Early in my career, it was difficult to balance family responsibilities as I learned to practice law, attempted to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and continued to give back to the Milwaukee community that helped to raise me.

    I remain involved, because it is important to maintain and develop spaces where other Latinx attorneys can bring their whole selves to a table and find support throughout their career.

    How has membership in WHLA helped you grow as an attorney?

    WHLA provides me a community of people who share similar experiences, traditions, and challenges, and is a place where I was welcomed, understood, and supported.

    The attorneys who started and continued WHLA in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s faced significant challenges, yet were able to start to break down barriers to advancement in Wisconsin. They built political capital, and advocated for changes that benefit me and future generations of Latinx lawyers.

    WHLA members are generous with their time, advice, and support. When I was considering law school, I reached out to WHLA members like Kristela Cervera, Judge Phil Chavez, Judge Pedro Colón, and others, who provided me with a safe space to ask questions about legal practice, helped me with the law school application process, and encouraged me at the challenging times throughout my early career. I learned lessons and drew strength from their experiences.

    Most recently, my WHLA colleague Craig Mastantuono supported my decision to join him on Gov. Tony Evers’ Judicial Selection Advisory Committee, where we have been successful in recommending the appointment of exceptionally talented attorneys to Wisconsin courts. This has been one of the most rewarding and proud volunteer opportunities of my career.

    Members of the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association

    Members of the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association pose for a photo at a pre-pandemic gathering in Madison ​in 2019.

    How does WHLA support its members?

    We are well aware that the cost of a law school education is an obstacle for many seeking a law degree. The American Bar Association reported that, according to a 2016 survey (the most recent data available), Black and Hispanic law students are more likely than white students to borrow money for law school, and will generally take on more student loan debt.

    This greater debt subsequently affects personal life choices, such decisions on whether to get married or purchase a house, and carries through for decades after a student graduates.

    WHLA attempts to reduce the financial burdens on our Latinx law students through its scholarship program. Every year, WHLA provides two $2,000 scholarships to Latinx law students. The money is raised through the generosity of our members and, in the last year, two local law firms generously supported our fund. We hope to grow the scholarship fund to ensure it can be self-sustaining, and with additional support, grow the amount and number of scholarships we offer.

    What else should we know about the WHLA?

    WHLA also provides its members networking opportunities and professional development programming and free CLE sessions. We co-sponsor panels with other Wisconsin Bar Associations throughout the year. Most recently, we welcomed Sergio Gonzalez, Marquette University professor of Latinx Studies, who shared the history of Latinxs in Wisconsin and fostered discussion among our members.

    WHLA also partners with other organizations to plan and present collaborative professional development and networking opportunities for our members.

    I encourage students and practitioners alike to join and support WHLA as we continue to build and grow our impact on the community in Wisconsin and nationally. Individuals do not need to be Latinx to join WHLA, and we encourage anyone interested in supporting WHLA’s mission to join.

    My favorite place in Wisconsin is …

    The Kettle Moraine Forest, Mauthe Lake Unit. Both my husband and I went camping with our families as children and continued that tradition with our daughter. We spent our early family vacations tent camping in the Kettle Moraine Forest – hiking, biking, and cooking large family meals together. Some of my happiest memories are of the time spent there in the summers and early fall.

    In Case You Missed It

    Find out more about these Wisconsin law-related organizations and the leaders that serve diverse communities:

    Amber Raffeet August: Leading the Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers
    Amber Raffeet August is president-elect of the Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers. Find out more about Raffeet August and the association, which helps attorneys of color grow in leadership roles.

    Angela Harden: What It Means To Be 'Out' as a Legal Professional
    On the board of directors of the LGBT Bar Association of Wisconsin, Angela Harden has a passion for the law and its ability to shape cultures, communities, and lives for the better. Find out more about Harden and the association.

    Renee Nawrocki: In the Interest of Women Lawyers
    Renee Nawrocki is president of the Association for Women Lawyers (AWL), an organization that boosts the careers of women lawyers in Wisconsin.

    Bryant Park: Speaking Up for Asian American Lawyers
    Bryant Park is president of the Wisconsin Asian American Bar Association (WAABA). Find out more about Park and the association that supports Asian American lawyers in the state.

    Meet Dennis Puzz Jr.: Serving Tribal Communities, Indian Law Section
    Dennis Puzz Jr. is leading the State Bar of Wisconsin Indian Law Section during a year of pandemic. Find out more about Puzz and the section.

    Breanne Snapp: On Advancing Women Lawyers
    Breanne L. Snapp is president of the Legal Association for Women (LAW). Find out more about Snapp and the association that advances the interests of women in the legal profession.

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