An Opportunity to Help

Lesly Santos, '19

A Q&A with 2019 Graduate Lesly Santos, Immigrant Justice Corps fellow with Catholic Charities

What brought you to law school?

I have known I wanted to be a lawyer since I was very young. Attending law school was always a goal of mine.

Why did you choose Pace Law? 

I chose Pace Law because of the location and the small community. I did the big school thing in undergrad. I wanted a campus with grass and trees. I also was offered a good scholarship, but that was met by schools in the city as well, – what made Pace Law my choice was the campus and community feel.  Also, by the time I was applying to law school, I knew I wanted to focus on immigration law. Pace Law’s Immigration Justice Clinic was also a major attraction to me. Professor Vanessa Merton is very well known for helping law students become great immigration attorneys, and I knew that I wanted the opportunity to work with her. Additionally, I was familiar with the immigrant population in the Lower Hudson Valley, and I knew that Pace Law’s location and faculty would take me to where I wanted to be professionally. 

Were you always interested in public interest work?  

I always knew I wanted to help people, but I didn’t know exactly how. When I got to Pace, I learned about public interest law and from that point on – I was sold. I wanted to be able to help people who needed help but didn’t necessarily have the funds to pay for legal work. Pace Law’s Public Interest Law Center really helped me to understand what public interest law was and how I could be a part of it. Public interest career advising was especially helpful in guiding me through the post-grad application process, prepping me for interviews, and laying out my resume. Professor Elyse Diamond held my hand through the entire process and played a crucial part in preparing me for my Immigrant Justice Corps interview and connected me with other Pace Law grads who have been through the process. 

What specific experiences at Pace do you feel helped to prepare you for a career in public interest law?  

The Immigration Justice Clinic is definitely a clinic that anyone interested in immigration law must take. I’m also glad I took advantage of the Pro Bono Scholars program. The additional work experience that you get is invaluable. Those two programs have taught me the importance of public interest work as well as some of the difficulties.

What is one of your favorite parts of acting as a public interest attorney?

It has to be the relief and gratitude my clients express when I tell them that we are offering them legal representation at no cost. It happens every initial consultation I do and it never gets old because I know that others (both attorneys and non-attorneys) would have charged them sums that they could never afford for the same service. The relief on their faces in realizing that they will receive quality representation is the most gratifying feeling. 

How did it feel to find out that you were selected to be an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow?     

It was amazing! Being selected as an Immigrant Justice Corps fellow was a goal of mine since my first year at Pace. Seeing how excited Professor Elyse Diamond and Professor Vanessa Merton were for me was priceless. I feel like they went through the whole process with me and it was a team accomplishment. As an Immigrant Justice Corps fellow, I will be representing indigent immigrants in the lower Hudson Valley at Catholic Charities – which is where I interned as a student!

In your opinion, what qualities makes a “good” public interest advocate?

I think you just have to genuinely care about the people you are helping. It’s often long hours with little pay, so you have to love what you are doing and care about the people you are helping. I was born and raised in New York City to Dominican immigrants. Growing up in an immigrant household, I was able to observe the difficulties faced by the immigrant community and I’m grateful that I now have the opportunity to help that community.