Archive for Sunday, September 2, 2012

KU law school grads opening bilingual firm

Men taking service-based approach to practice

September 2, 2012


Some lawyers give the profession a bad rap. Then there are Carlos Hernandez and Zach Roberson.

Hernandez and Roberson graduated from Kansas University School of Law. It’s where they met and became friends. But unlike some with dreams of finding a powerful firm and making partner at 35, Hernandez and Roberson have a different plan.

Carlos Hernandez, left, and Zach Roberson graduated from Kansas University School of Law, where they met and became friends. The two are opening a bilingual law firm in Olathe after realizing a need for more bilingual attorneys in the Kansas City area.

Carlos Hernandez, left, and Zach Roberson graduated from Kansas University School of Law, where they met and became friends. The two are opening a bilingual law firm in Olathe after realizing a need for more bilingual attorneys in the Kansas City area.

They are opening a bilingual law firm in Olathe.

“It’s scary, but after all the research we have done, we feel comfortable,” Hernandez said. “There is a need.”

“We decided people here needed legal assistance,” Roberson said. “Some of these people are an invisible segment of the population because they are illegal, and they are afraid to really go anywhere.”

They both view the decision as service-based. The two estimate there are fewer than 20 bilingual attorneys in Kansas City, and the number of Spanish speakers only continues to grow. Hernandez said this imbalance creates backups and makes life difficult for those not proficient in English.

“I would go to a restaurant and just talk to the waiters and servers, and I would be like, ‘So I am thinking of doing this, do you think there would be a need?’” Hernandez said. “I remember back in January there was this server who was like, ‘yeah, it took me two months to talk to an immigration lawyer.’”

They both want to fix this problem by opening a law firm in Olathe to help with immigration cases as well as simple acts such as getting businesses incorporated. They said Olathe is the best location with the highest likelihood of population growth.

Merging of skills

They share a common goal but took very different paths to come to this point. This is because Hernandez and Roberson are two very different people. Roberson, 26, who graduated from Texas Tech, came from a suburban Dallas family and grew up speaking English. Hernandez, 27, graduated from the University of Texas-El Paso. He grew up in El Paso and lived in Mexico for 10 years before returning to the United States. His first language was Spanish. He has helped translate for his Spanish-speaking parents for most of his life.

“I still need to translate, but it is not as much as back in the day,” he said.

Hernandez said he saw firsthand the difficulties people who don’t speak English face. He also had an experience of how difficult the legal system could be. It happened after he was shot in 2004.

A stray bullet hit Hernandez in the right arm while he was watching horse races in Sunland Park, N.M. Hernandez said a man had been shooting at the racetrack all day and claimed track employees knew this fact.

Hernandez ended up in the hospital. He tried talking to police about what happened but got what he calls “the runaround.”

“It’s really complicated when you don’t have any connections to talk to someone,” he said. “When that happened, I thought, ‘you know what I think? I can make a change if I go into that.’”

So Hernandez determined he would go into law to help people deal with such situations.

Roberson said his decision to enter law and start the firm came from his need to help people.

“I got into law because I do want to help people, and I probably think this is the best way at this point in my life that I can do that.”

But before Roberson can help people, he has a bit of work to do. At the time he and Hernandez and a friend, David Smith, hatched their plan, about seven months ago, Roberson knew little or no Spanish.

“I have hit it really hard,” he said. “I feel like I am learning it.”

Making preparations

Roberson has been doing a lot of studying lately. He and Hernandez have to take the Kansas Bar Exam to get their law licenses. On top of this studying is the constant preparation to get their business off the ground. The two say they spend much of their time meeting and networking with lawyers and law professors. These people give them tips, contacts and promise to send business their way. One lawyer gave a library of law books to the two. Another sold them a cheap desk. In this manner the duo are piecing together a practice. They have yet to select a site in Olathe but are following the tip they hear over and over from Kansas City professionals: “Keep your overhead low.”

They will also work to gain extra experience before they open their practice. Both are working as interns over the summer for a Catholic diocese for immigrants in El Paso. There, they planned to practice immigration law and put their bilingual skills to use.

“We were like, ‘hey, you don’t have to pay us; just teach us,’” Hernandez said.

Afterward they will return and try to start their firm. Hernandez and Roberson said they have enough money saved to float business expenses for two years. They will also receive help from their parents and an inheritance that Roberson has received. The two hope that in two years their business will have taken off.

“It’s a service thing first,” Roberson said. “The money will come later. We really just want to be problem-solvers within the community.”


Cartemus 5 years, 9 months ago

Good for them. The world needs more people who are willing to help those in need.

JackMcKee 5 years, 9 months ago

Their research is flawed. There are a lot more than 20 bilingual attorneys in Kansas City. There might be 10 in Lawrence alone. Not every attorney that is bilingual publicizes it on their advertisements. If that's the entire basis for their practice, they better not be planning on making very much money.

Shelley Bock 5 years, 9 months ago

Sorry, McKee, you're not often wrong (my compliments), but on this one you are. Bilingual attorneys are hard to find. At the moment, there's only one who is sufficiently fluent to translate in court and he doesn't do criminal matters. (He might be the one you refer to in your later posting.) Some have a basic understanding. If there are more in Lawrence, they must be auditioning for Clint Eastwood's chair because they're invisible.

JackMcKee 5 years, 9 months ago

I also seriously hope they have an experienced mentor to advise them. Opening a practice right out of law school with zero real world lawyering experience is a a really terrible idea. It sounds like they got the bulk of their advice from kitchen staff. Who did these kids know at the LJW to get this story published? I know of one person right off hand that opened a bilingual immigration practice right here in Lawrence a few years ago. Not a single peep about it in this newspaper, either.

bcavetx 5 years, 9 months ago

Granted, the article does not say where the two spent their previous summers in law school, I would bet that they spent those summers gaining real world experience. The advice from the kitchen staff pertains to need, not business planning or legal strategy. Second, read the subtitle of the article, "service-based," which is probably opposite of the immigration attorney that is here in town. I'm sure the two gentlemen are appreciative of your noted concern. If it is genuine concern, perhaps you should share the contact info of your friend who practices immigration law here in in Lawrence.

raiderssb 5 years, 9 months ago

Good for them! We need more progressive thinkers and those willing to help an undeserved community. They're about the people not about the $!!!!!!

james bush 5 years, 9 months ago

Yes sir, the world needs more litigation specialists!

james bush 5 years, 9 months ago

Yes sir, the world needs more litigation specialists! Hope things go well for them regardless of my skepticism about the need for lawyers/potential politicians.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 9 months ago

Just about any right you enjoy is the result of litigation and/or legislation.

brewmaster 5 years, 9 months ago

After four or five years of living on the vapor of helping illegal immigrants they will join a sleezy product liability law firm and be controlled by corporations that profit from expoiting illegal immigrants.

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