Leaders of Young Lawyers Program Find a Passion for Shaping the Future
Within a few months of entering Loyola Law School in 2016, Amanda Manalo and Montserrat Plancarte Murillo signed on to be mentors in a special Loyola program that teaches local high school students about the legal system. Just a few months later, they realized they loved the program so much they wanted to become its student lead coordinators before they graduated.
Now, three years later, Manalo and Plancarte have won Loyola Law School’s 2019 Graduation and Dean’s Service Awards for their commitment and service as this year’s leaders of the Young Lawyers Program.
“For both of us, the program was one of the best experiences of our law school careers,” Manalo said.
The formally titled Judge Stephen O’Neil Trial Advocacy Mentoring Program brings 80-100 local high school students to campus once a week during the spring semester, where they are paired with law-student mentors to learn about the legal system and participate in a mock trial competition. The program exposes these students, many from underserved areas, to the benefits of higher education while providing a bridge between Loyola and the community.
The program was devised by Loyola student groups La Raza de Loyola and the Black Law Students Association. Professor Gary C. Williams, who is the school’s Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Chair in Civil Rights, and Professor Gary Craig, who oversees Loyola’s Concentrations [link], oversee the program.
Plancarte Murillo said many of the young students in the program have backgrounds like hers when she was in high school: They have never met any attorneys, and their parents did not attend college.
What made the difference for Plancarte Murillo was a high school teacher who learned of her interest in law and involved her in a mock trial program.
“It was very important to me to be able to do the same thing for other high school students here at Loyola,” she said.
Manalo also found being a mentor very fulfilling. “I got to test my own knowledge, teach it to a high school student and then see it come to fruition at the end,” she said. “It was amazing to have that impact as a first-year law student.”
That’s true of many of the law students who sign on as mentors for the Young Lawyers Program, she added. “They end up really loving the program and getting close with their mentees. The program exceeds everyone’s expectations.”
In their 2L year, Manalo and Plancarte Murillo served as coordinators for specific aspects of the Young Lawyers Program. As co-leads this year, the two managed all aspects of the program, including recruiting mentors and mentees, designing lessons, arranging guest speakers, fundraising for some small scholarships and overseeing creation of a formal curriculum.
They also, of course, studied law. They participated in the yearlong Civil Rights Litigation Practicum and in clinics — Manalo for the Juvenile Justice Clinic and Plancarte Murillo for the Juvenile Innocence and Fair Sentencing Clinic.
In addition, Plancarte Murillo interned with a local immigrant rights project and externed for U.S. District Judge James Otero. Manalo, who came to law school because of her passion for social justice, interned for the California Women’s Law Center and two public defender’ offices.
“One of the things we love about Loyola is all the practical experience you get here,” Plancarte Murillo said, who is clerking for a small civil litigation firm. “I feel very prepared to step into a courtroom without feeling intimidated.”
Both women said they credit much of their success to Loyola’s professors, who all seem to care very much about students. “I think every single professor here, is here for their students and want to see them succeed,” Manalo said. “They make us feel comfortable.”
The same is true of the Law School’s alumni. “There are so many who are very eager to help you,” Plancarte Murillo said. “You can just reach out to anyone, it doesn’t matter that you’ve never met them, and they’re willing to help you.”
Next year, when they are alumni, they will do the same. Manalo and Plancarte Murillo both plan to return as alumni mentors in the Young Lawyers Program.