As the College of Law Celebrates 10 Years, Alumni and Students Share Their Stories
By JP Renaud and Martin Haro
They said it would never work, that Miami didn’t need another law school. But the dreams of a determined few, who believed in a public law school that would educate a new generation of civic-minded attorneys, would not be quelled. After all, visionaries are people of action.
Ten years ago, those dreams became actions – and FIU finally had its College of Law. But that wasn’t the end of the dream; it was just the beginning. The next decade would see the birth and growth of a law school that would match – and eventually surpass – all expectations. Highest bar passage rate. Moot court champions. A steady climb in national rankings.
Beyond the accolades and statistics, the greatest dream to come alive rests in the alumni and students. They represent the promise, the future, and FIU Law’s ultimate achievement. These profiles stand as a testament to what has been accomplished thus far. They are the public servants, business and community leaders, the decision-makers who will help shape the 21st century.
Their titles may vary – and each represents a different year in the College of Law’s brief history – but much more connects them than sets them apart. They have a hunger to make a difference. They have a passion for the law and how it can give a voice to those in need.
As elite members of an alumni base that still hails fewer than 1,000 members, they are all forever connected to a blue and gold thread that leads them back to those first few dreamers.
Alicia Garcia, Incoming Class ’02, JD ’05
Assistant State Attorney, Homicide Division
Bringing closure is a big part of Alicia Garcia’s job.
Garcia has been an assistant state attorney since she graduated from the College of Law. As the homicide division chief, she supervises four prosecutors, and says she loves her job because above all, it allows her to do the right thing.
“I always get to wear the white hat,” she said. “My job is about executing the law, which in many instances means punishing criminals, but it’s also about rehabilitating people and helping get them back on track. You have to develop perspective and have humility to do this, and recognize the difference between dishing out punishment and effective prosecuting.”
For Garcia, it comes down to looking at all the circumstances of a case and weighing whether second chances are merited. The reward is being there for the victims and their families.
“There are times when you know someone has committed a heinous crime, but there isn’t enough evidence to charge them, so you have to refrain,” she said. “Other times, evidence comes to light, and as a prosecutor I can assist police in obtaining court orders or warrants that can help solve a 20-year-old cold case. Bringing closure to families like that is incredible.”
MacAdam Glinn, Incoming Class ’03, JD ’07
Vice President, Aviation, Skanska USA Building
In 2001, Glinn was working for then-state senator, now Congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman Shultz when former Dean Leonard Strickman visited her office seeking support to create a College of Law at FIU.
Glinn took the meeting and promised to relay Strickman’s visit to his boss. But before he left, Glinn told Strickman of his ultimate dream of attending law school and follow the footsteps of so many members of his family. Strickman, who eventually became the College’s first dean, encouraged him to follow that dream.
“I like to think that I helped reinforce the Congresswoman’s support for the College of Law,” he recalls. “At the time it was pretty controversial to add two new law schools.”
Two years later, Glinn was admitted into the newly minted College of Law.
“I was accepted into UM and St. Thomas, but FIU just felt right, I loved the energy and excitement I felt there, you could tell they were building something special,” he said.
Glinn, who worked full time while attending the College of Law’s part-time program, graduated in 2007. He then practiced law for nearly three years before re-joining the international construction firm Skanska, where he is now vice president in the conglomerate’s Aviation Division, overseeing all airport construction business development and contracts work nationally.
“But for FIU College of Law, I would not have had access to a truly world-class legal education while working to support my family, nor would I have had the opportunity to realize my dream of becoming an attorney.”
Daniel Cervantes, Incoming Class ’04, JD ’07
Hogan Lovells, International commercial arbitration
Following the advice of political science Professor Rebecca Salokar ’81, JD ’09, Cervantes became a volunteer guardian ad litem in 2002. For six years, he served as a guardian of the court in cases involving the rights of children.
“I remember one where an infant was abused by his father. The child was malnourished, had broken ribs,” he said.
“I was appointed as guardian ad litem to ensure he had a voice in court and that he was protected from this abuse and neglect
by both his parents.”
Cervantes says his guardianships combined with his years at FIU made for “some of the best of my life.” The College of Law’s arrival allowed the native Miamian to stay close to home. “I was thrilled that a public law school would be opening in South Florida and that I could stay here,” he said.
While at FIU, he served as an editor for the FIU Law Review. He went on to become the first College of Law alumnus to clerk at the Florida Supreme Court, fulfilling clerkships with Chief Justice Charles Canady and Former Justice Harry Lee Anstead.
Today, Cervantes works at Hogan Lovells, one of the largest international law firms in the world, as part of its international commercial arbitration practice in Miami. He remains connected to FIU through the College of Law Alumni Network, of which he is a past president.
Maria D. Garcia, Incoming Class ’05, JD ’08
Zumpano Patricios & Winker, P.A., Healthcare law
Among the FIU College of Law alumni is a Miami native of Cuban heritage with a quintessential FIU story. Maria D. Garcia ’05, JD ’08 says that when looking at universities, she selected FIU because it offered something different.
“The Honors College was fairly new at the time, and I thought the program they offered was exciting,” said the political science alumna. “Throughout the years, I developed an affection for FIU and, with the College of Law getting off the ground, I thought, ‘I’ll stay here and be part of making FIU history.’”
While at the College of Law, she studied abroad in Spain, and was president of the Moot Court. Upon graduation, she received the Appellate Advocacy Award. “I believe FIU is the backbone of our community,” she said. “I wouldn’t have the success I have today without FIU. The legal community respects FIU Law degrees. My entire family believes in the school: My brother and sister have pursued law degrees at FIU.”
Today, Garcia is a blue-and-gold ambassador who recently joined the Board of Directors of the FIU Alumni Association. At Zumpano Patricios & Winker, she focuses on healthcare law and commercial litigation. She represents a variety of healthcare providers, including physicians, group practices, hospitals and other specialty facilities.
“I never have a boring day because healthcare is a developing area in my field, especially in Miami with our economy and demographics,” she said. “I enjoy healthcare law because it’s dynamic and versatile and touches everyone in our community in some way.”
Andy Diaz, Incoming Class ’06, JD ’09
Senior Policy Advisor to the Undersecretary for International Trade, United States Department of Commerce
Graduated from the College of Law? Moving to DC? Call Andy Diaz, class of 2009.
Diaz, who is now the senior policy advisor to the Under Secretary for International Trade in the U.S. Department of Commerce, realized quickly that there was no support system for the few FIU Law graduates in the nation’s capital. So he decided to take up the job himself—by organizing get-togethers and making sure FIU Law alumni are there for one another.
“Facebook isn’t enough,” he said. “What I want to do in an informal way is have all these people connected. It’s for the students who just graduated and the students who are looking for a job. Everyone needs a support network.”
Diaz was one of the first FIU Law alumni to make his mark in Washington. After receiving his bachelor’s degree at FIU, Diaz had a brief career in journalism before realizing that his passion was law and foreign affairs. He chose a young, up-and-coming law school because of its size and mission.
“The great thing about FIU is that we’re not churning out graduates to make money,” he said. “The wonderful thing is that you’re in a smaller law school, you know all your classmates, and you’re learning about a modern, connected world at a university that reflects just that.”
After graduation, Diaz accepted a job in the Obama administration, eventually landing at the Department of Commerce, where he advises the Under Secretary on international trade issues and ensures trade agreements are honored.
Willard Shepard, Incoming Class ’07, JD ‘11
WTVJ Investigative Reporter
His father, a former school superintendent in a town outside Chicago, and his mother, a teacher, instilled early on that there was never a limit to education. And since Shepard had so many dreams to fulfill, that advice fit him perfectly. It was just a matter of prioritizing.
“After college it was either law school or fly fighter planes,” he said. “There’s an age limit of 27 and a half to learn how to fly fighter planes. So I took the airplanes first.”
Shepard served in the Air Force for 14 years, participating in the Gulf War before coming to Miami to pursue another dream: working for Miami’s NBC affiliate. Shepard has received three Emmys, including one for his news series, “The State of Black Cleveland.” He has also been honored for his reporting by the Associated Press, United Press International and the Aviation and Space Writers Association.
But one dream stayed elusive until 2011, when Shepard graduated from FIU Law.
“I would encourage people who ever thought about going to law school to come and do it,” he said. “You can use this legal education to do many types of things.”
For the award-winning journalist, a law degree has allowed him to cover stories, such as the George Zimmerman case, with a better understanding of the technicalities and nuances of the law.
“The stories that I do now are much more thorough, both legally and journalistically,” he said.
Jarred Reiling, Incoming Class ’08, JD ’11
Presidential Management Fellowship Policy Analyst at U.S. Food & Drug Administration
When he was 16 years old, Reiling and his sister convinced a judge to place them in foster care — a process that took them away from their mother and required the teenager to grow up much faster than he should have.
But through adversity comes strength. Reiling forged a sense of compassion and empathy that led him straight to what allowed him to take this path in the first place: the law.
“I think what I went through helped me develop a zeal for helping others who have faced similar and even more traumatic situations than I ever did,” he said. “The law gives you the power to change the direction of your life.”
The valedictorian of his class at FIU Law, Reiling is a Presidential Management Fellow working as a policy analyst at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products. When his fellowship ends, he will start a one-year clerkship for Miami-based Judge Adalberto Jose Jordan at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he will help the federal judge formulate sound rulings.
“At FIU, there’s recognition of the real importance that everyone has in the school’s success,” he said. “There’s a culture of collaboration, of wanting to contribute to the school in a very altruistic sense.”
Wendy Jauregui, Incoming Class ’09, JD ’12
Presidential Management Fellow Asylum Officer at USCIS Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations
One day in Cuba, Wendy Jauregui’s father, a university professor, spoke out against the Castro regime. He was fired, arrested and charged with the crime of peligrosidad—accused of being a public threat.
And after two years in jail as a political prisoner, Jauregui and her family applied for political asylum at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana. The man reviewing their application, an asylum officer who acted as an advocate, and the process of coming to the United States made such an impact on 6-year-old Jauregui that it influenced the rest of her life.
Today, Jauregui, who graduated from FIU’s College of Law in May, is in the prestigious Presidential Management Fellows Program working in the Department of Homeland Security. And like the man who inspired her nearly two decades ago, Jauregui is an asylum officer, reviewing applications from those seeking safety from persecution.
“I’ve always focused my studies on human rights and immigration,” she said. “I never really expected that one day I would serve in the very same role that helped my family flee oppression.”
Jauregui met her fiancé during their first semester in law school and both competed on the highly ranked Moot Court team. She liked his tenacity. He loved her joie de vivre. After the couple graduated, Jauregui started reconsidering the sudden move to Washington, D.C., where most fellows are assigned, and delayed the process.
But destiny usually gets its way. Even without her application in hand, Homeland Security hired her and placed her where, perhaps, she was meant to be—at the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate.
Nicholas Greene, Incoming Class ’10
Third-year law student
Ten days – that’s how long Nicholas Green had to move from UF in Gainesville to Miami, a city he’d never visited, to start law school at FIU back in 2010. The German-born, Orlando-raised future civil litigator says FIU’s location and the College of Law’s growing reputation were key in his choice to become a Panther.
Greene was quick to adapt to the rigors of the school’s program. “The program at the College of Law is a lot more challenging than I expected,” he said. “The opportunities I’ve gotten here, like arguing a case in front of Justice Samuel Alito as part of the Moot Court team, have been amazing.”
Greene not only has carved himself a place among Miami’s legal movers and shakers, he is building a reputation for himself, since he intends to practice in Miami. “The scene here is somewhat small – everyone knows one another – so you want to be on your game all the time.”
He recently finished a second stint as a summer associate at Holland & Knight and spent several weeks working in the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office.
Looking ahead at his third year of law school, he’s excited to begin working in the Family and Children’s Advocacy Clinic in the College of Law. “I’m hoping to interact with clients more and get some court/hearings experience. It’s another resource to becoming the kind of attorney I want to be.”
Altanese Phenelus, Incoming Class ’11
Second-year law student
When she was a little girl, while all the other kids in her class said they wanted to be doctors or explorers when they grew up, Altanese Phenelus knew she would be a lawyer. She even drew pictures of herself carrying a briefcase.
“I just want to see justice be served in this world, and be part of that process,” said Phenellus, who earned a degree in political science from FIU in 2010. “The law is such an interesting arena.”
Born and raised in South Florida and the youngest of six siblings, Phenelus is hoping a law degree from FIU will help her effect change. As first-generation college students, she and her sister, Dunier Valbrun ’05, an alumna of the College of Arts & Sciences, are already writing an exciting new chapter in their family’s story. She spent the summer as an intern for Judge Marcia Cooke at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Phenelus recently joined the FIU Law Review and wants to become a prosecutor. Her long-term goals: the U.S. Attorney’s Office and, eventually, the bench.
“That’s my dream – to become a federal judge,” she said. “The law can be a challenging thing where you read a piece of legislation with two sides of case law supporting each. It comes down to a judge to analyze both sides and continue or set a new precedent. I want to be able to change the world, and this is a good way to do it.”