Gabriel Serrano, 17, had not thought much about being a lawyer before volunteers from Southern California Edison (SCE)’s Law Department went to Rosemead High School to teach students about different practice areas of the law and different jobs in the legal field.
But Serrano’s views about his future changed after that experience and spending the day at SCE’s headquarters in Rosemead recently with 130 high school juniors from three local high schools — Rosemead High School, South El Monte High School and Arroyo High School. Being a lawyer is now something Serrano said he would think more about when he goes to college.
Serrano, who was one of six students who won $500 in an essay contest for SCE’s Street Law event, wrote about how a law should be passed to give people who illegally immigrated to the United States legal status.
“A lot of people come here for a better life. I know people who are illegal immigrants and see how much harder they have to work,” he said. “They work three times as hard.”
SCE attorney Brian Cardoza, chair of the Law Department’s Diversity Committee, organized the Street Law event for the students. He said the program exposes high school juniors to many different aspects of the practice of law and provides a pipeline for traditionally underrepresented minorities and women for access to higher education.
“I expect these students will move on to bigger and better things in life, and I hope we were a small part of helping them do that,” Cardoza said.
The teenagers are from classes at their respective high schools for college-bound students, Cardoza said. Volunteers from SCE’s law department taught one-hour classes at each of the high schools before the students spent the day at company headquarters.
Allen Munoz, 16, from South El Monte High School, said he is interested in becoming a lawyer and particularly is interested in criminal law.
“It seems like a cool job to represent someone and help them out,” Munoz said.
Before Street Law, Munoz said he was exposed to lawyers on TV in shows like “Criminal Minds.” What interested him most about the day at SCE was the presentation about environmental law.
“They showed us both sides of what they were talking about; seeing both perspectives showed me how to approach things better,” Munoz said.
Victoria Garcia, 16, from Arroyo High School, said that while she isn’t planning to pursue a career in law, she learned a lot that can help her in interactions with people.
“I’m really into lawyer shows like ‘Law & Order’. I got to learn about things lawyers actually do,” Garcia said.
Kelly Tang, 16, from Rosemead High School, was among the essay contest winners. She wrote about enacting a law that would tax companies for outsourcing jobs overseas to pressure U.S. companies to keep the jobs here. That would produce more jobs and be good for the economy.
Tang said her favorite part was the seminar about First Amendment law and networking with SCE law department volunteers at the lunch.
“I like to talk to people and get their opinions,” Tang said. “I like to argue my point of view.”
The event was sponsored by the Law Department’s Diversity Committee. Volunteers did everything from handling logistics to grading essays and teaching sessions.
Kris Vyas, an attorney in the rates and grid support section, taught the students about underage drinking and criminal law.
“I believe wholeheartedly in Street Law. It’s a chance to interface with schools that are in our local community, and to connect up with younger people,” Vyas said. “One of the things that struck me was how motivated the students were in their future plans. Many of them have already decided on a career path."
Javier Rivera, an attorney who handles claims and general litigation, taught the street art and law session.
“I absolutely enjoy the opportunity to mentor and talk to students,” Rivera said. “I grew up as a low-income Latino in Florida, and the opportunity to interact with people who looked like me was few and far between. To take the opportunity and share life outside of what they know is my responsibility, and I enjoy it.”
Rivera said he spent much of the networking lunch hour talking to students about his past, how he went to college and law school and possible college opportunities for them.
“The biggest takeaway was a sense of hope,” Rivera said. “Meeting bright, young energetic students gives you a sense of hope that the education system is succeeding.”