Lesley Mendoza, J.D. '02
In law school, even one class can have a tremendous impact on a student’s future career. For alumna Lesley Silverio Mendoza, JD ’02, that class was Public Interest Law with Professor Martha Mahoney. Mendoza’s passion for those in need, underscored by her participation in the class, would ultimately find its home in a career in pro bono advocacy.
Mendoza’s path to law school and a legal career was not always easy, but looking back on it she says “it was meant to be.” After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, she knew she wanted to go back home. She was born in Miami and grew up in Hialeah, a first-generation American, the daughter of Cuban immigrants. Upon returning, she spent one year as a teacher at Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens to save up money and prepare for law school. At Miami Law, she excelled. She was an editor on the Inter-American Law Review, participated on the Moot Court Board, and was a member of the Hispanic Law Students Association. She did all of this while working at Baker McKenzie during her second and third years to help pay for school.
While all of these experiences helped grow her legal knowledge, none was more formative than Public Interest Law with Professor Mahoney. The class introduced students to local attorneys who were engaging in public interest advocacy. These guest speakers and their passion for their work inspired Mendoza. She remembers thinking that the attorneys were “working hard to try to find justice in the world and making a true impact on people’s lives, especially vulnerable populations, and you could tell they found joy in what they were doing.” From that moment, she knew it was her dream to pursue a career in the public interest sector.
Another class that also impacted Mendoza’s life was Evidence, where she met her husband. After law school, the couple moved to New York where Mendoza worked at White & Case. While she felt that she needed to work in the private sector to help pay off student loans, the firm was actually the perfect place to further her passion for public service. White & Case encouraged pro bono work, and Mendoza took full advantage of that. Looking back on it now, she recalls that she loved the pro bono assignments, with the pro bono partner teaching and mentoring her through the process. They attended Immigration Court together, representing unaccompanied immigrant children.
Now, as Executive Director of CABA Pro Bono Legal Services in Miami, Mendoza serves and advocates for vulnerable populations on a daily basis. In addition to handling general pro bono cases, CABA Pro Bono specifically serves four key populations in need: victims of human trafficking, victims of domestic violence, undocumented immigrant children, and veterans. Mendoza finds inspiration in the clients she serves.
“They have gone through so much," she says. "They have endured so many hardships and so much abuse.”
Her heart and passion have found a home: providing legal services for those who cannot afford it. While the legal system does not always grant justice to the poor, the attorneys on staff at CABA Pro Bono continually work hard to find justice for their clients and ensure that they can have the best representation possible by mentoring and working with pro bono attorneys who agree to take on the cases. The passion she first saw in the guest speakers back in her Public Interest Law class is the same passion she brings to her work daily to serve those in need. Mendoza firmly believes that “regardless of your income, you should be able to find justice.”