As a first-generation college graduate and son of a factory worker, Arturo Hernandez, a third-year law student at The John Marshall Law School, can better relate to children and young adults from underprivileged backgrounds than most attorneys.
“As a lawyer, it can be hard to relate to clients who are children,” Hernandez said. Since college, he has worked with these youths. This past summer he was an honorary intern for the Illinois State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. His internship was funded by the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI). His work focused on challenges homeless children face in primary and secondary education.
Hernandez will be serving a two-year term as the student representative on the PILI board of trustees. He will be serving as a bridge between the lawyers—many of whom are at big firms—to low-income, disadvantaged clients.
Working to help others isn’t new to Hernandez. As an undergraduate student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he was part of the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club of Champaign-Urbana, working with children ages five to preteen. After graduating, he worked with the Geneva Youth Foundation of Chicago mentoring males ages 18 to 21 who had grown up in temporary living situations. He taught them simple life skills and self-leadership needed to acclimate to adult life.
“[Working at the Geneva Youth Foundation] reaffirmed that you have to teach them while they’re younger,” he said. While there, Hernandez worked to instill positive values and to encourage the residents to attend college and obtain employment.
His internship had Hernandez working closely with Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS), the program operated through the Chicago Public Schools that ensures students in temporary living situations have equal access to the same educational opportunities as their peers.
He was mentored by experienced civil rights attorneys and was able to get introductory experience in public interest work. He interacted with students living with relatives or guardians because of economic hardship; students who had run away or had been cast out of their home by their parents; students who are refugees or migrants; and students who are not accompanied by a guardian. He handled cases of children who are shuffled through parents’ households, relatives’ households and foster care, and didn’t understand why they had to attend as many as three different schools in a year’s time.
“No textbook can prepare you to handle that type of situation,” he said. Hernandez credits most of his life lessons from those he has worked with rather than his coursework.
As the student representative for PILI, he plans “to learn as much as I can from these attorneys, and try to follow in their footsteps.”
As student representative for PILI board of trustees he will help determine how PILI funding and resources are dispersed among organizations.
Hernandez is excited about his appointment, and delighted that the board believed he had the professional demeanor and speaking skills they were looking for. He will be working with senior attorneys and partners from major Chicago firms, and practitioners at government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
He will be working with senior attorneys or partners of major Chicago firms, and practitioners at several government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
In his work with PILI, Hernandez is glad to know someone recognizes his work, having put in long hours in the library, internships, summer jobs and networking in professional circles.
“I feel privileged that someone of my background who grew up knowing no lawyers is now working alongside several of the most respected lawyers in the Chicago legal community,” he says.
Hernandez is vice president of the Latino Law Students Association at John Marshall and a serves on the executive board of the Illinois Law Students Association. Hernandez received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.