The Hispanic National Bar Association - A Point Of Pride

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Nelson A. Castillo, Principal, Castillo Law
Firm, PLLC, and National President, Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA).
Mr. Castillo may be reached at
href="mailto:nelson.castillo@caslawfirm.com"
target=_new>nelson.castillo@caslawfirm.com.

Editor: HNBA celebrates more than 30 years of achievement since its
founding. How has its mission evolved?

Castillo: The mission of the HNBA has remained constant throughout the
years and it is two-fold. First, we advocate for Hispanics in the legal
profession and the community at large - before Congress, state legislatures,
governmental agencies and other public forums. Second, consistent with our
mission to increase professional opportunities for Hispanics in the legal
profession, we help individuals get into and graduate from law school, and
assist them in their professional development once in practice.

We cooperate and work closely with mainstream bar and other minority
organizations because we share many issues in common, in particular, creating a
more diverse profession. The more we work together, the more we can accomplish.
I look forward to the day when our organization is no longer needed because we
have full participation by Hispanics in the legal profession.

Editor: Congratulations on being selected as HNBA's president. What goals
would you like to achieve during your term?

Castillo: There is much to do, and it cannot all be done in one year.
I began identifying Latino lawyers and law students from around the country who
could help me accomplish our goals. While our numbers in the legal profession
may still be small, our talent pool is very deep and committed to service.

To set particular goals, we looked at membership surveys to determine the
issues we should be addressing. Our members want us to continue our advocacy
role on issues from immigration reform, to voting rights, to finally placing a
Hispanic on the U.S. Supreme Court. This requires a tremendous amount of work in
putting together teams of individuals to evaluate issues and generate proposals
on which there is consensus. Bear in mind that even though our membership is
made up largely of Hispanics, we are an extremely diverse group. There is no
required political orthodoxy. However, when we take a position, we advocate
strongly for it so it can be put into action.

We are also working very hard to recruit the next generation of leaders. We
recognize that attorneys, and in particular minority attorneys, are in a unique
position to effectuate change in our society. We actively reach out to law
students and attorneys and reaffirm the Association's message of service so that
they can better themselves professionally and use their skills to serve the
community.

Whenever possible, I visit law schools and talk to students across the
country. Likewise, I encourage law school deans and administrators to continue
to work on diversity-related issues and to increase the number of law students,
professors and administrators entering that environment. Without that pipeline,
our profession will continue to be underrepresented by Hispanics.

Mentoring is important to me. This year we are looking to establish a
national mentorship program. We also want to institutionalize a Law Day similar
to that of the ABA. We want to educate the public about legal issues and to
motivate the future generation to follow in our footsteps. Depending on the
study, the number of Latino law students is either static or is dropping. We
have about 28,000 Hispanic attorneys out of approximately one million attorneys
in the United States. When you consider that there are approximately 43 million
Hispanics in the United States, we are grossly underrepresented. That gap will
only continue to worsen if we do not affirmatively work on increasing the number
of Hispanic lawyers. To me it is important to engage the community and enlist as
many schools as possible to reach out to our next generation. This needs to
happen so that the legal community can meet the needs of our increasingly
diverse population.

Editor: How does your charitable arm, the Hispanic National Bar
Foundation, Inc., contribute to the development of our nation's future
leaders?

Castillo: The Foundation has created a "law camp" wherein every year
we bring students and other individuals from around the country to Washington,
DC to learn about the law and to be introduced to the branches of government.
Our goal is to plant a seed, hoping it will mature so that there will be a
desire to pursue the law in the future. It is an incredible undertaking but the
money is well spent. We have been fortunate to have the support of various
corporations and law firms, which is crucial for the success of this project. We
also contribute scholarships to the students and mentoring programs in some
areas. As I mentioned earlier, we will be establishing a mentoring program at
the national level.

The Foundation has its own board of directors, which does great work. Our
success is attributable to the generous support of our sponsors. American
businesses and law firms now understand globalization and changing demographics.
They see this as a business necessity. Some are taking the lead in making long
term investments to ensure that institutions such as the HNBA continue to serve
as a vehicle to increase the number of diverse attorneys. This effort must be a
collaboration with mainstream organizations and other minority groups.

Editor: Would you mention some of the sponsors of the "law camp"?

Castillo: Some of the sponsors of the Foundation and HNBA include
corporations like Wal-Mart, Pepsico, AstraZeneca, Freddie Mac, State Farm
Insurance, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Aramark, BellSouth, Coca-Cola,
Dell, Schering-Plough, Pfizer, Tyson, The Walt Disney Company, Altria Group,
Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Exxon Mobil, Intel, Marriott
International, SBC Communications, Sprint, UPS, Scripps Networks, and Verizon.
Some of the law firm sponsors include Reed Smith; Sonnenschein Nath &
Rosenthal; Duane Morris; Jones Day; Foley & Lardner; Greenberg Traurig;
McKenna Long & Aldridge; Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett; Wilmer Cutler
Pickering Hale and Dorr; Akerman Senterfitt; Alston & Bird; Baker &
Hostetler; Cozen O'Connor; Day, Berry & Howard; Epstein Becker & Green;
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher; Jenner & Block; LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene &
MacRae; Littler Mendelson; Lowenstein Sandler; Merchant & Gould; Sidley
Austin Brown & Wood; Skadden, Arps Slate, Meagher & Flom; Weil, Gotshal
& Manges; Williams Mullen, and Winston & Strawn.

Editor: You joined HNBA as a law student. What advice do you have for law
students today?

Castillo: First, do well in school. I understand that many of
us have many responsibilities while attending law school. This is particularly
so for Latino law students. We come from very different backgrounds. For
example, I arrived in the U.S. 24 years ago from El Salvador. I have colleagues
in the HNBA who have been in the U.S. for generations. Others, of course, never
had to "arrive," their families were simply here. Some come from affluent
backgrounds and others from more humble ones. Depending on your background and
where you come from, the experience in law school can be a very foreign one
indeed. It is important that Hispanic law students spend their time in law
school wisely, doing the best they can academically. Also, they need to reach
out and ask for help when needed. They should have mentors within the Hispanic
community and from the community at large. I have been blessed to have had
mentors from all walks of life, including individuals from different cultural
backgrounds. If you exemplify a desire to succeed and to give back to the
community, you will find a lot of people who will reach out to help you.

I also strongly recommend that law students should begin to get involved in
bar associations while in school. I have found that bar membership helps you
grow professionally and build a network. As a 25 year old student you may not
appreciate the value of a strong network of professional acquaintances, but as
you proceed in your career, such a network can enhance the opportunities that
may become available later.

As a lawyer, you should strive for excellence. Your involvement with the
community should continue - either through a bar organization or volunteering at
a nonprofit organization. You need to find something that you are passionate
about and which is useful to the community at large.