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    Jair Alvarez: Changing Cultures and Conversations

    Puerto Rico native Jair Alvarez represents the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association on the State Bar of Wisconsin Board of Governors. He champions diversity in the legal profession with the goal of finding solutions to the issues minority communities face in society and, in particular, the justice system.


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    Jair Alvarez

    Jair Alvarez shares office space with Micabil Diaz, Kevin Boyle and Kristopher Ellis (not pictured) at 995 Applegate Road, Madison. Photo: www.WisconsinLCNews.com and La Comunidad Newspaper

    You moved to Madison from San Juan, Puerto Rico, when you were 11 years old. What brought you to Wisconsin?

    My mother enrolled in the Ph.D. program at U.W.-Madison. She brought my brother and me with her from Puerto Rico in August 2000. My mother wanted to move us away from the inner-city environment that we grew up in, and to enjoy a healthier lifestyle. I think that for my brother and me, the hardest part was learning English fluently.

    What are some of your memories about that move, your transition to life in Wisconsin?

    The weather change is memorable. I went from living in 70-90 degree weather year-round to snow and hail for half the year. Also, San Juan, Puerto Rico, is a large cosmopolitan area and Madison is a small city. There’s definitely more nature and wildlife in Madison versus San Juan. I had never seen so many trees in a city before or so many bikers.

    I definitely missed the food in Puerto Rico, the beaches, and my extended family. To this day, I have my coffee shipped from Puerto Rico. There is no other coffee like it in the world.

    Your mother temporarily moved in with you last fall after living through Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit Puerto Rico dead on. You must have a good story to tell about living with mom.

    We shared a very special night on March 24, 2018, when I took my mother to the Earth, Wind and Fire concert for her birthday! They’re a 1970s funk band that has famous singles such as “Boogie Wonderland” and “September.” The concert took place at the Overture Center.

    She stayed in Madison after the hurricane, as the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico are ongoing and many parts of the island are still without reliable basic services, such as electricity. 

    Tell us about your path to law school. Why did you become a lawyer?

    I grew up very poor, and I witnessed firsthand how the law and the police interacted with poor communities, and I was not pleased with what I saw. I wanted to be able to help my community through education, litigation, and legislation.

    What do you wish someone had told you earlier about being a lawyer?

    I wish someone had told me that becoming a lawyer is a very expensive process. I do not have immediate family who are lawyers, so paying costly fees to the Board of Bar Examiners, the Office of Lawyer Regulation, and the State Bar upon graduation was definitely a surprise. I was very lucky that I had money saved up.

    Four years out of law school, you have your own business and criminal law practice. How did that come about? Who are your clients?

    I was struggling for a whole year out of law school because I could not find full-time employment in southwestern Wisconsin. I applied to jobs within and outside the legal field. During that time, I was working two part-time jobs and I began accepting cases in the areas of business and criminal litigation.

    I focused on becoming the very best lawyer possible. As my reputation as a skilled negotiator and litigator increased in the community, I began to earn more and more clients until I had a full practice.

    I handle mostly criminal and business litigation. My private clients range from mid-size businesses to individuals. I also handle a small number of State Public Defender and court appointments as well.

    You share office space with three other lawyers. A good move? How does it work?

    I have an office at 995 Applegate Road in Madison that I share with attorneys Micabil Diaz, Kevin Boyle, and Kristopher Ellis. Micabil and I met at the Dane County Circuit Court where we both spend a lot of our time. I met Kevin in the Lafayette County Circuit Court around that time as well. We all needed an office space and realized that our costs would be less if we shared some of them, such as rent and utilities. A while later we met Kristopher, and we instantly knew he would be a great addition to the office.

    In the future, where do you see the growth in the legal services market? What should lawyers do now to serve those needs?

    We’re already seeing a greater involvement of minorities in the legal industry both as attorneys and as clients. I think that all future attorneys must be experienced with technology and also be culturally aware, because the future of law is technology-guided and multicultural.

    You’re on the State Bar Board of Governors as a liaison to the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association. What are your early impressions?

    I would like to thank the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association and the State Bar of Wisconsin for allowing me to serve on the board. I have enjoyed the meetings and everyone has been very welcoming. The work that the State Bar carries out on a day-to-day basis is very important. I would like to recognize the advancements that we have made thus far in increasing diversity within the State Bar and in the law profession in Wisconsin overall. I would like to say thank you for allowing me to join in those pursuits!

    The legal profession is the least diverse profession in the nation. What does the profession need to do to fix its own diversity problems?

    As for Wisconsin, I find it very problematic that most law firms that employ more than just a couple of lawyers have very little diversity. I have had these conversations with partners at large firms, judges, and other law professionals, and we all identify the same problem: a lack of hiring of minorities.

    It’s not enough to have programs like the diversity clerkship program; we need to ensure that minorities who graduate law school are employed. We can take all the efforts to diversify law school graduates we want, but until law firms realize that hiring minorities is a profitable endeavor, we will not see any change in the rate of diversity at law firms.

    Bonus: What’s on your bucket list?

    I have to run for political office. I want to draw attention to the needs of my community that are not being met by our institutions. I want to help change the culture and conversation around poverty and crime and other socioeconomic issues affecting our community. I feel that as lawyers the best we can hope to do is ask for a solution from a court. I want to make the solutions, not ask.