Making a Positive Impact Together
October 05, 2023 - MoFo Life, MoFo Pro Bono

MoFo’s Commitment to Diversity in Its Pro Bono Practice – Meelissa Tapia Cortez

My MoFo Story

Editor's note: Read about Meelissa Tapia Cortez, who participated in MoFo’s 2023 Summer Associate Program in our San Francisco office, in this installment of our MoFo Stories series.

As part of MoFo’s Sponsors for Educational Opportunity program, I felt eager to learn everything I could before the summer of my 1L year. I was lucky enough to be placed at MoFo during the summer of ’22, and I have never looked back. While I had done research on the firms I was interested in working for, nothing prepared me for the warm welcome of MoFo’s associates, partners, and business professionals. Aside from having well respected queer employees and a robust Latinx presence on every level, MoFo excels in its commitment to pro bono work. Coming from a nontraditional background, I worked at immigration nonprofits for many years prior to law school, specializing in legal aid for survivors of violence. Due to this prior experience, my expectations for a firm’s pro bono practice were high and, I’m proud to say, MoFo has exceeded them.

This summer, I participated in amazing projects—all close to my heart. I had the privilege of working with Root and Rebound, an organization whose mission is reentry advocacy and harm reduction for individuals impacted by mass incarceration. As part of its record expungement clinic, I was able to work directly with a client in need of legal services. The result of the process is imperative, but hearing each client’s story is the most humbling and impactful part for me. As I was perennially reminded in my years of client-facing work, the individuals on the receiving end of criminal justice systems are often victims of systemic injustices in the first place, meaning they need and deserve care and resources rather than punishment. In this way, MoFo’s alliance with Root and Rebound’s mission and practice speaks volumes. As if all that were not enough, I received thorough feedback from Pro Bono Counsel Dorothy Fernandez, whose interest in my development as a persuasive writer was evident, not just for my personal progress but also for our client to receive the best advocacy.

I also contributed to an asylum clinic with our partnering organization, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA). I’ve worked on many asylum cases in the past; they are time-consuming and resource-demanding. The supervising attorneys at CLSEPA provided excellent training, exemplifying devotion to their clients and cause. Even though I was the most junior member of my team, the associate I was partnered with, Rafael Alberto Grillo Avila, allowed me to take the lead in the process. The trust of and respect for my experience were very meaningful and exemplary of MoFo’s respect for its employees with nontraditional backgrounds.

In sum, my experience with MoFo’s pro bono practice continues to convince me that MoFo sets the bar for commitment to partnering with progressive organizations, honoring system-impacted clients, and helping develop the skills of its employees to shape us into the best advocates we can be.