Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

Student Profile

Elisabeth Duarte

Full-Time Day Program

Elisabeth Duarte has never suffered the indecisiveness that afflicts so many of her Generation Y peers. She knew she wanted to be an attorney when she was in third grade. "My parents always said 'You're going to be a doctor or a lawyer, you pick,'" she said.

Duarte says she's lucky. After all, she landed the first job she applied for, working part time as a law clerk for Wilkes & McHugh, a civil litigation firm that specializes in nursing home abuse/neglect cases. She was co-president (along with Daniel Goularte) of the Latino Law Students Association (LLSA), the award-winning student group responsible for the successful Hoover Elementary Toy Drive. She competed with TAHP during the 2007 spring semester, and she received a scholarship from the Mexican American Bar Foundation. In August 2007, she marry her longtime boyfriend.

But her hard work and dedication play a far bigger role in her early successes than good fortune. Her parents immigrated to America from Cuba in the 1970s and Duarte has lived in Torrance all her life. She earned her bachelors degree in Political Science with a minor in Law & Society at USC in just three years. Duarte saw opportunities at Southwestern and wanted to stay in the Los Angeles area.

She carried a full course load and was working 16-20 hours per week in a job where she had to learn a lot about medicine and the problems nursing home patients face. "My job is all about discovery. I interact with clients a lot, and I like litigation much more than pushing papers. There's more heart to it," she said. As the only person in the office who was fluent in Spanish, Duarte was also able to communicate with more clients.

In November, preparing for the toy drive takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. But all the meetings, coordination, gift wrapping, and volunteering, especially right in the midst of final exams, were worth it to Duarte. "It's an amazing tradition that Patricia Higuera '05 started. The children at Hoover Elementary write the cutest little letters to Santa. They're mostly Latino and just learning to speak English. They'll ask for dolls, crayons and balls. Their requests alone make you realize you're dealing with kids in tremendous need."