The Transformative Practice of Law

by ursavoice

Tania Valdez

Law students of color are constantly told, especially by other people of color, not to pursue the public interest because of the potential to be “more than” that. It is astonishing to me that many students key their law school applications to their commitment to community and “diversity,” and appear to be selected for those very reasons. Yet the “legal academic industrial complex” then attempts, and often succeeds, at convincing us that those passions are not good enough.

While resisting the pressure to “keep an open mind” (my favorite code phrase used by people pushing others into corporate law), how do law students committed to engaging in resistance to the hegemony of corporate law stand their ground? Does the presence of people of color actually change mainstream areas of law, or does it only serve to legitimate those practices? Why are there so few spaces that actually encourage students to follow their hearts toward a vision of justice that meaningfully contests and even transforms the corporate domination of “the law”?

LatCrit, the organization of Latina & Latino Critical Legal Theory, is one of those rare spaces where people interested in critical thought about our legal institutions come together in the name of anti- subordination. After attending LatCrit XV, the annual LatCrit conference, in my home state of Colorado, I came away more hopeful than ever that law students of color and our allies can engage in self-critical analysis and build community in what I have come to think of as the transformative practice of law.

As a student presenter and a LatCrit Student Scholar (a recipient of an annual writing prize for law students interested in critical legal theory for anti-subordination goals), I had a unique perspective at the conference. I had the privilege of attending the LatCrit-Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) Faculty Development Workshop, a series of interactive presentations designed to demystify the process of becoming a law professor for those who might be interested in academia but who are usually never encouraged to do so. Never before had I considered teaching law. Now I realize that if I pursue that path, my voice would not be alone, but rather part of a chorus spread across the country and beyond, which has made the necessary effort to gather annually in the U.S. and parts of the global South in order to transform the theory and practice of law.

I did not know what to expect from presenting at the conference as I sat in front of a room full of people waiting to hear the other members of the panel, including Professor Jennifer Chacon, speak; I felt my hands shake. But when I took a step outside of my own head and really looked, I realized that the audience was not filled with people there to heckle or judge, but with people truly interested in my development as a legal scholar.

I am extremely grateful to LatCrit for all they did for me, and especially for all the other LatCrit Student Scholars in my cohort, including Liz Rieser-Murphy at the University of Miami School of Law, Michele Sonen Park at the University of Hawai’i School of Law, and Finalists Toni Holness at Temple University- Beasley School of Law, Ana Romes at the University of Miami School of Law, and Erica Zacharie at Tulane University Law School. We had the unique opportunity to present our work and receive feedback in a supportive setting that recognized us for our activism, which has been a rare occurrence in law school. One of my favorite moments was the presentation of the Student Scholar Awards, because Sumi Cho, a law professor at DePaul University School of Law, and Marc-Tizoc González, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley Department of Ethnic Studies (who together co-chair the LatCrit Student Scholar Program), arranged for my parents to present the award to me. It was truly special for my parents and me, and it succinctly shows the heart and thoughtfulness of the people who constitute LatCrit. Another memorable moment was cutting the cake with Michele Park Sonen and Frank Valdes at the final evening celebration, followed by a dance party like none other. After all, there is no revolution without singing and dancing, right?

For more information about LatCrit, visit its website,, and especially the Student Scholar Program webpage at LatCrit XVI will be in San Diego, California,