by Michelle Mondo
During her Spring 2023 semester, from the St. Mary’s University campus, law student Leslie Espiricueta fought for a Georgia Innocence Project client who has served 25 years in prison.
The second-year J.D. student at the School of Law logged more than 150 pro bono hours for her remote internship with the Georgia Innocence Project for the case that remains confidential. She created a trial transcript digest for the attorneys, worked on smaller digests for witness impeachment and even researched and wrote a motion the attorneys filed a few days later.
“The work I completed through the internship made me feel good to contribute in any way I could to something important,” Espiricueta said. “Plus, it made me excited to be a future lawyer.”
The internship is one more step in Espiricueta’s journey to becoming an attorney who champions the rights of marginalized communities, especially those who need a bilingual, Spanish-speaking attorney.
A desire to help
She first became aware of the difficulties encountered by the Hispanic community in her East Texas hometown of Tyler. Her mother immigrated from Mexico and only spoke Spanish. Espiricueta was the first in her family to learn English.
Espiricueta said she witnessed the results of policing in communities of color, in particular, teens with minor infractions who ended up in the criminal justice system.
She also watched her mother struggle through the legal process when she tried to get help for relatives in the criminal justice system.
This led Espiricueta to swap a pre-med undergraduate major at Texas A&M University in College Station for sociology in anticipation of law school.
Setting an example
The community focus she found at St. Mary’s University fit her goals, especially for advocacy. She joined the Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee and the School of Law’s Advocacy Program’s National Team. This year, she won a National Latino/a Law Student Association national championship. She does all of this while staying at the top of her class and working as the comment editor of the St. Mary’s Law Journal.
Professor of Law Albert Kauffman, J.D., taught Espiricueta in his voting rights class.
“Leslie is dedicated to her community and friends, and I am sure she will dedicate her career to the community, especially the immigrant and low-income community,” Kauffman said. “She has great skills but is very humble and honest about her abilities. I have worked with lawyers for almost 50 years, and I know she will do very well in whatever legal field she chooses.”
Espiricueta is headed to New York City next — interning in the New York City Law Department Special Federal Litigation Division this summer. This fall, she will intern at the Western District of Texas Federal Public Defender’s Office Capital Habeas Unit in Austin.
“The work I completed through the internship made me feel good to contribute in any way I could to something important. Plus, it made me excited to be a future lawyer.”
As the oldest of five, Espiricueta is the first to go to college and hopes to continue setting an example for her younger siblings.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure they know what paths are out there for them and they feel supported,” she said. “Since I was a first-generation student, I didn’t know how anything worked, and it was difficult. Now that I’ve gone through that, they won’t have that experience. I’ll be here to help.”