School of Law graduate from the RGV finds support during J.D. studies

May 20, 2024

Close to home

By Leticia Romero

Hannah Orendain (J.D. ’24) had a family history in the legal field, but when it came to picking a major, she had to decide between following in her father’s footsteps by becoming an attorney or going to medical school.

She decided she was better at arguing and graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Poverty Studies and Social Justice in 2020.

“I graduated a year early, and I took what would have been my senior year off,” Orendain said. “I worked at the district attorney’s office back in Hidalgo County just to make sure I wanted to study law, and that’s where I was like, ‘Yep, this is what I want to do.’”

Hannah Orendain (J.D. ’24) in front of the Sarita Kenedy East Law Library.

Orendain did more than work for the district attorney that year. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, her mom suggested they find a way to help their hometown, McAllen.

In their first week, they raised $900, which they used to bring food to front-line medical workers in the South Texas area, known as the Rio Grande Valley or RGV. Their idea has since transformed into the nonprofit RGV Gives Back, which is “committed to promoting and advancing the educational, cultural, social and economic well-being of all RGV residents,” according to its website.

RGV Gives Back’s focus has evolved to providing college scholarships, giving away $6,000 to $7,000 every spring to Rio Grande Valley students.

When it came time to pick a law school, Orendain considered her undergrad alma mater but believed the St. Mary’s University School of Law was a better fit for her.

“I knew St. Mary’s had a really good pro bono program, and I’m very involved in my community,” Orendain said. “It is also the closest law school to the Valley, and my family is a big priority to me. I didn’t want to spend another three years living seven hours away from them.”

When her dad got sick during her first semester in law school, she knew she had made the right decision to stay close to home. Orendain’s father passed away in the second semester of her first year in law school.

I always had this dream: I was going to graduate law school, and I would join the family firm. My dad was going to be there, and he was going to guide me.”

Hannah Orendain (J.D. ’24)

“I always had this dream: I was going to graduate law school, and I would join the family firm,” Orendain said. “My dad was going to be there, and he was going to guide me.”

Orendain said her professors worked with her, sending her recorded sessions and giving her the needed time to attend services and be with family. She returned more determined than ever to finish law school.

“Two weeks later, I came back, and I did better that semester than I did my first semester,” said Orendain. “I know God put me at St. Mary’s for a reason.”

Despite the loss of her father, Orendain made the most of her experience at the School of Law.

Hannah Orendain Grad
Orendain graduated from the School of Law on Saturday, May 18, 2024.

She’s been recognized by the School of Law for her work aiding those in need. Involved in student organizations, she also ended her school career as the vice president of the People’s Parity Project, president of the Lawtina Network student organization and alumni outreach chair of the Hispanic Law Student Association.

Orendain is also an advocate of the St. Mary’s 1L Edification Program, or SM1LE, a mentor program that matches first-year J.D. students with second- or third-year J.D. students.

“You need a mentor in law school,” Orendain said. “It’s easier to find success with someone by your side who’s already gone through your struggles.”

Orendain said she’s grateful for the resources on campus, including the School of Law’s Office of Career Strategy, which helped her with résumé and interview prep. She also plans to enroll in the Raise the Bar program, a supplement to a commercial bar prep program offered to all School of Law graduates to prepare for the bar exam.

Orendain still plans to move back home and work at her family’s law firm and to continue her commitment to St. Mary’s Law as an active alumna.

“I would love to be a resource for current or future students at St. Mary’s School of Law,” Orendain said. “I plan on staying involved as it allows me to make a positive impact and help shape the next generation of legal professionals.” 

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