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  • May 18, 2022

    Marisol González Castillo: Opening Doors for First-generation Law Students

    Marisol González Castillo was the first in her family to attend college and law school. Now a successful attorney, she is this year's Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazer, opening doors for future lawyers.

    Shannon Green

    Marisol Gonzalez Castillo smiles at the camera

    Marisol González Castillo is the 2022 recipient of the Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazer Award from the State Bar of Wisconsin Diversity & Inclusion Oversight Committee. Find out why she is dedicated to helping first-generation students become lawyers.

    May 18, 2022 – It takes a lot of courage to cold-call knock on doors to ask for a job. To do that as a college student seeking opportunity in an unfamiliar field, even more courage is required.

    Marisol González Castillo was a college sophomore looking for opportunity in her field of interest – law – but she wasn’t sure how to find someone who could help her. That’s when she visited the local law firms in her hometown of Waukegan, Illinois, offering her skills as a Spanish speaker.

    “It was terrifying!” González Castillo admits. “I remember almost not doing it – it was that hard. It took a lot of courage just to get out of the car.”

    Her effort landed her the help she needed to obtain her dream. Today, González Castillo is with Hawks Quindel in Madison.

    She is also the 2022 recipient of the Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazer Award from the State Bar of Wisconsin Diversity & Inclusion Oversight Committee. The award celebrates an individual who contributes to and enhances diversity and inclusion within the Wisconsin legal profession.

    The State Bar celebrates this award and others annually at the Member Recognition Celebration (MRC), part of the State Bar’s Annual Meeting & Conference (June 15-16 this year). The 2022 MRC event will be held on June 16 at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva.

    Marisol Gonzalez Castillo and her mother both smile at the camera

    Marisol González Castillo (right) poses with her mother, Edith Castillo Jarillo (left), in 2018, at the Wisconsin Capitol on the day González Castillo became a lawyer.

    Immigrant to Lawyer

    González Castillo was 8 years old when she emigrated from Mexico City to the U.S. with her mom, Edith Castillo Jarillo. Through family connections, they settled in Waukegan, Illinois. “Mom was trying to look for a better life for the both of us,” González Castillo said.

    González Castillo is the first college graduate in her extended family, and the first lawyer. And while college and law school are difficult enough, she was also going through the process of becoming a permanent resident. “I started the process in high school,” she said. In her first semester in college, she had to leave for three months to live in Mexico. “That’s where they do the interview,” she said. “And you hope they let you back in the U.S.” She made up the time lost – and in 2017, while a 2L, she became a citizen.

    Getting to where she is today took a lot of determination and courage.

    “I wanted to better myself, and for me, that meant getting an education.” With no one in her family who could help from experience, she felt in college “like I was in the dark, that I had to figure things out for myself.”

    Shannon Green Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.

    And she did, choosing Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and doing all she could to get scholarships. She earned a double major in psychology and economics – and had her sight set on law school. She set out to make connections with a lawyer, by knocking on doors in Waukegan.

    She didn’t get the job she sought. But that “terrifying” effort netted her a connection to a criminal defense lawyer in Waukegan – her first legal mentor, an Illinois lawyer named Julio Argueta. “He said ‘I can’t pay you, but you can intern and shadow me,’” she said.

    While she still had to continue her job at McDonald’s, his guidance was invaluable, and continued all the way through law school. “He gave me a lot of advice in my 3L year, especially when I was worried about finding a job.”

    That he opened the doors for her, she has no doubt.

    Marisol Gonzalez Castillo and Steven Rosa smile at the camera

    Marisol González Castillo and her partner, Steven Rosa, smile for a photo at the Racine Zoo's lantern festival in late 2021.

    Helping Those Who Need It

    Today, she is the one opening doors.

    González Castillo chose law for one reason: “I want to help people who aren’t getting proper legal aid,” González Castillo said.

    She wants to help, because she’s been there. “Seeing the issues my family ran into, I wanted to help people like them,” she said. Not knowing all of the information, because there is a language barrier, causes strain and confusion.

    At U.W Law School, close to home, she got involved with the Wisconsin Innocence Project and other pro bono clinics. Graduating in 2018, González Castillo started with the Legal Aid Society in Milwaukee. “I did a lot there – eviction defense, some consumer work, and I also helped other attorneys with their Spanish-speaking clients,” she said. “I learned about a lot of different practice areas.”

    She is happiest when her practice allows her to help people. With Hawks Quindel since 2020, she practices in personal injury and worker’s compensation. “I like everything I’ve done,” she said.

    Marisol Gonzalez Castillo poses with her two dogs

    Marisol González Castillo with her dogs, Bruno (left) and Bandit (right).

    Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

    González Castillo will never forget what it was like to find her own way through college and law school – “not knowing where or who to turn to when you have questions. Not having a family member in the field who you could easily ask without feeling like you’re dumb.”

    That remains a vivid memory – of beginning well behind the starting line compared to others. “You’re thinking that there were so many things others knew that I didn’t. And having that constant feeling that you don’t belong – a strong sense of impostor syndrome,” she said. “Keeping questions to yourself – and just muddling through instead. You’re already behind, so you stay behind because of what you don’t know.”

    She doesn’t want other first-generation college and law students to feel like she did, and she is doing something – actually many things – about it. She doesn’t want them to have to cold-knock on doors to find a mentor. “Having someone to ask without judgment is extremely important – because these questions have to be asked.”

    As a U.W. Law School alum, she is helping to mentor U.W. Latinx students. Through the Diversity Scholarship Foundation – dedicated to ensuring diversification in Chicago’s legal community – she is participating in the First Generation Mentor/Mentee program.

    And she has been instrumental in expanding the State Bar’s Ready.Set.Practice. lawyer mentoring program to include law students.

    “I like to reach out, especially to Latinx student associations, and help whoever I can. Because I know there’s a need, and if I can provide help I will,” she said.

    Marisol Gonzalez Castillo gives a presentation via Facebook Live

    Marisol González Castillo gives a presentation in April 2022 about personal injury cases for El Primerito's Wisconsin News Facebook page. For non-English speakers, a barrier to equal justice is a lack of resources in their language to help them make educated decisions, she says.

    Asesora Legal

    To help overcome the language barriers in legal matters, González Castillo conducts presentations in Spanish to inform Spanish-speaking individuals about their legal rights in areas she practices in, such as personal injury and workers’ compensation.

    “It is important that they know how certain legal processes work and what their rights are,” González Castillo said.

    In April, she was a presenter in a Facebook Live program on personal injuries for El Primerito - Noticias. “I explained when someone may have a case and the process,” she said.

    Mentoring the Next Generation

    It is important for González Castillo to continue helping more first-generation students – not only helping them in their undergraduate years, but helping them get into law school. And once they are in law school, making sure they know about the programs that can help them succeed, like the State Bar’s Diversity Clerkship Program for 1L students.

    “Getting them there is one part, getting them to succeed is another part – and that is harder,” González Castillo said. “We need to set them up for success.” So she will continue to contact various places and programs where the students are.

    She’s not just knocking on doors, but opening them wide. “I want to help and mentor students as much as I can, however I can.”

    Join in the Celebration at the Annual Meeting & Conference in June in Lake Geneva

    AMC 2022 logo

    Marisol González Castillo receives her award at the Member Recognition Celebration at the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva.

    Join the celebration at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2022. The celebration takes place at the State Bar Annual Meeting & Conference. Conference registration is not required to attend.

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