The freedom of doing what is right

Wilfredo Lopez, '17

Wilfredo Lopez chose Pace because he wanted a school with a focus on public interest and Pace/Haub Law was full of opportunities for hands on learning. In his own words, “[a]fter working in different business-related industries for over a decade, I wished to make a career change and become a lawyer. Specifically, I wanted to focus on public interest law. When I visited Pace, I was impressed by the number and scope of the clinic offerings. What really impressed me was visiting the John Jay Legal Clinic and seeing the quality of work conducted by clinic students.”

For as long as he can remember, Wilfredo wanted to work in public interest, to serve the public. “As a child from a working-class family, issues of equity and justice were always at the forefront of my family’s experience. I knew I had to do something to help others in the same type of predicament. Growing up, there were not many lawyers who looked like me, doing the type of law that mattered to my community, I felt a need to change that.”

Once he started at Pace, Wilfredo immediately acquainted himself with the Public Interest Law Center. He worked with them beginning in his first year to secure internships in public interest. “Throughout my time at Pace, I had the opportunity to work at FINRA, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, the US Attorney’s Office, and the Immigration Justice Clinic. While at the Brooklyn DA’s office I received a summer PILC grant that helped me to be able to accept a non-pay internship. That was instrumental in allowing me to continue my journey in public interest law.”

During his time at Pace, Wilfredo recalls working on a brief for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. “It was by far my most memorable public interest law related memory.” He recalls, “while at the Immigration Justice Clinic, we tried appealing to the various government agencies on behalf of one of our clients. When we exhausted every administrative option, we petitioned the Second Circuit and were allowed as students, to file a brief on behalf of our client. My clinic partner and I worked diligently for weeks to prepare the brief. With the help of our advisor, Professor Vanessa Merton, we were able to file the brief weeks before my graduation.”

After graduation, Wilfredo went to work at the Brooklyn Attorney’s office as an Assistant District Attorney. He spent 18 months at the DA’s office and successfully argued four trials. In November 2018, he was approached by a member of the New York City Council for a position as his legislative director. “The Council Member was impressed with my desire to serve the public and my work both in law school and the DA’s office. Since joining the Council, I have passed eight pieces of legislation ranging from Campaign Finance Reform to food safety for kid’s meals.”

When asked what he finds most rewarding about public interest law, Wilfredo is confident and succinct in his answer. “For me, what I love most about public interest work is the freedom of doing what’s right for everyone as opposed to what is right for just who can afford to pay me. I wake up each morning loving the work I do. To be a good public interest lawyer, you have to have a sincere desire to do what is right. Public interest law is broad, difficult, and often shrouded in layers of bureaucratic red tape. What gets you through all the difficulties is that desire to do what is right.”