Juan Enjamio is a first-generation lawyer. His parents came to the United States in 1970 without a college education but with the idea that higher education was the key for success.
Enjamio, Miami managing partner of Hunton & Williams, is one of 13 South Florida managing partners whose firms have committed to fund scholarships for first-generation law students to give them a chance at higher education at Florida International University College of Law.
“I’m a first-generation college graduate, and at an individual level I want other young people to have the same opportunity that I had,” Enjamio said. “Part of the reason why we are committed to help fund this scholarship is because many of our attorneys are also first-generation lawyers, and the firm values providing the same opportunity to young people in our community.”
Each of the law firms, FIU law dean Alexander Acosta and some nonprofit organizations such as the Cuban American Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Foundation and the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute have donated a combined $918,000 in scholarships and stipends for students who will be the first in their families to attend law school. Donations include $500,000 from the Judge Aaron B. Cohen Foundation of Miami Beach. The foundation is named for a New York family court judge who retired to South Florida. The donation was made to the externship program because of the exposure students receive to the judiciary.
Students will receive the scholarships based on need. The school has not established a required grade point average or community service hours as thresholds for qualifying.
About $10,000 to $15,000 will be awarded to incoming students, Acosta said.
None of the law firms has committed to hiring students as summer associates or first-year associates. But they do want to be active in the selection process and want the opportunity to mentor the scholarship recipients.
In-state tuition for FIU law students averages $18,463 a year for the day program and $12,508 for night students.
“FIU differs from many other schools because we have many students who are the first in their families to attend college,” Acosta said.
Minorities are about 58 percent of the 151 law students, and 48 percent are women. The law school is ranked in the top five on The Princeton Review’s ranking of best environment for minority students.
“If there aren’t enough Latinos or African-American lawyers to represent their communities, you can’t achieve the level of quality and fairness that we strive to achieve in the U.S.,” said Cesar Alvarez, executive chairman of Greenberg Traurig. “It’s almost as breaking the barrier, and the way to do it is one graduate at a time. Your children are going to feel that this is a normal thing that my mom, father and brother did, and it’s an expectation that can be accomplished.”
The school plans on using about $500,000 of the money raised for summer stipends for students who want to clerk or extern with judges.
“I thought that the scholarships and stipends were a way to provide for students that need it most,” Acosta said. “Working for a judge provides invaluable experience, but you don’t get paid. Some people can’t afford to do it, and the stipend will provide a small amount to support students.”
FIU’s law school, which was created in 2000 when Governor Jeb Bush pushed the project through the state Legislature, is the only public law school in South Florida.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to law school,” said Al Avila, managing partner of Avila Rodriguez Hernandez Mena & Ferri in Coral Gables, Fla. “I think what attracted us to this scholarship was that so many of my partners could identify with those first-generation students going on to law school. It probably resonates more with us that can identify with those first-generation students.”