Students Serve the Hispanic Legal Community
Innovative University of Denver Sturm College of Law students, Zachary Al-Tabbaa, 3L, and Desiree Palomares, 2L, are taking their education and legal responsibility to the next level. Appointed as co-presidents of the Hispanic National Bar Association – Law Student Division’s Region XIII (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming) in October 2018, they are on a mission to create opportunities for students to thrive in law school and become successful members of the legal profession.
Al-Tabbaa and Palomares are pioneers in myriad ways. They are both students who came from out of state to attend Denver Law, they are among the first to fill this HNBA-LSD regional president seat, and they both understand how crucial community and support is in diversifying law.
Al-Tabbaa’s path to the legal profession wasn’t a straight one. He began as a pre-med student at the University of Texas at El Paso, focusing on microbiology, but knew medical school wasn’t his calling.
What did grab his attention were patents, steering his career path toward a combination of science and the law. “The best way for me to put it is that my passion for science and desire to protect the hard work of those laboring to progress it led me to pursue a legal education with a focus on patent law,” he said.
Denver Law’s Intellectual Property Law Program was a natural fit for his goals. Al-Tabbaa was impressed with what the law school and Colorado had to offer when he chose Denver Law; however, he didn’t know anybody when he arrived. He quickly realized that finding a support system, and in turn, fostering similar relationships with other Hispanic students, was critical.
“Being a half-Hispanic, half-Arab in this country, especially in the current climate, has been a challenge. Finding a community that really took me in and is helping myself and others like me is extremely valuable,” he said.
He discovered the HNBA through his position as the DU Latino Law Student Association (LLSA) Colorado Hispanic Bar Association (CHBA) representative. He was among twenty-five students invited in the summer of 2018 to the HNBA/Microsoft Intellectual Property Law Institute in Washington, D.C., an experience that opened doors for his legal career future.
Al-Tabbaa believes in paying opportunities like this forward.
“I was inspired by the numerous practicing attorneys and students that were impassioned to help their communities and other students like me,” he said. In addition to his HNBA-LSD role, he is active in the CHBA as Co-Chair of the Young Lawyers Division Committee. He also mentors other law students through the Sturm College of Law Peer Mentorship Program and the Law School Yes We Can! Program.
During his term as co-president, Al-Tabbaa hopes to encourage more Hispanic students to pursue the legal profession through the many resources of the HNBA, CHBA and other organizations aimed at supporting underrepresented students. As part of that, Al-Tabbaa tells students to seriously consider attending Denver Law and take advantage of all the opportunities available.
“I definitely would encourage other Hispanic students and half-Hispanic students like myself to come to Denver Law and get involved. There are many of opportunities here that you just don’t find in other parts of the region.”
Palomares had law school in her sights about half way through obtaining her undergraduate English degree at the University of California Berkeley. An accomplished gymnast at Berkeley, she wanted to parlay her sports background and writing skills into a sports law career.
When she started law school, however, her focus changed.
“Once I moved here, I realized that it was very different from where I am from. It was a culture shock, and it changed my goals for law school, one of them being that I wanted to be involved in increasing diversity at law schools,” she said.
Part of achieving her goals was becoming a member of the HNBA and LLSA, as well as mentoring high school students through the Center for Legal Inclusiveness’ Journey to JD program and mentoring in the Law School Yes We Can! Program. When she saw an opening for the HNBA-LSD regional president, she saw her opportunity to further foster the conversation about diversity in the legal profession.
Palomares’ goals for her term as co-president are to strengthen the Hispanic community at Denver Law and other law schools, as well as involve more people in the community to help students feel like they are not alone. As part of that mission, she encourages minority students to join as many student organizations they can while they are in law school.
“When students first come to law school, they should come very open minded and join groups because it helps increase the dialog in law school. They should not be intimidated in doing so; they should feel like we are all in this together and to take advantage of the resources given.”
Those resources could make a valuable, lasting impact in legal career paths, as they have for Palomares. Instead of sports law, she now wants to focus on low-income legal services and has built a professional network and support system in Denver that can’t be beat.
“At first, I really wanted to go back to California [after graduation], but now I think that I can make a bigger difference here. I have made connections, and I have been really supported by the faculty and community here, and those are relationships that I don’t want to miss out on.”
The HNBA-LSD, in collaboration with Al-Tabbaa, Palomares and HNBA members, are planning to host future networking events and panel discussions that all students are encouraged to attend.
“In our events, we want to involve everyone. We don’t want a divide, but rather want to start a conversation so it feels like a team working together rather than an us versus them mentality,” said Palomares.