Interview with Juan Dominguez, HNBA Latino Lawyer of the Year
Posted: Apr 22 2014
Hispanic.com’s interview with Los Angeles based Juan Jose Dominguez, the Hispanic National Bar Association’s 2013 Lawyer of the Year. Dominguez talks about his Cuban roots, working his way up from a first generation immigrant to a legal professional, and provides advice on success to young people today.
Hispanic.com: Please tell us about your arrival in the U.S. from Cuba. You arrived here when you were 10 years old.
Dominguez: Back in 1967, I came to the U.S. with my family my mom and dad. We were eight in total. We came to the U.S. without a nickel in our pockets. We started from zero! We had an aunt who lent us money to rent our first apartment in Southgate which is in southeast L.A. That’s where I grew up. When I was 13 years old I had a paper route and my brothers washed dishes. Everybody helped to feed the family. I very much identify with immigrants in the U.S.
What made you go to school, not to mention study law?
We had strong role models in my family tree. But no lawyers. However, my dad was a good role model. He was a pharmacist in Cuba. Long after we had left the house and we no longer needed our parents. He went back to school at the age of 65 at USC and passed the pharmacy exam. He re-established his license here in the U.S. at the age of 67. Coming from humble beginnings we were able to overcome a lot of adversity. So, my dad was definitely a role model to me.
I say this above all – the role model thing is huge. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon. I had all the disadvantages in the world. English was my 2nd language. I went to public schools. Quite frankly, I really didn’t learn how to read and do math until college. My parents were not the types of guardians that pushed their kids on education. I can’t recall them asking what my grades were. Instead, they led by example.
Before law school, you spent time working as a patient liaison at emergency rooms in the L. A. area?
Let me tell you, destiny a lot of time finds you. You don’t necessarily find destiny. I am bilingual. At that time hospitals had a huge need for bilingual liaisons. How I got the job is that my oldest brother was washing dishes at a hospital where he eventually became assistant cook. He got me a job, as a janitor at the hospital. After eight or nine months I was promoted to central services, and then another opportunity opened up as a bilingual liaison.
Why did you choose to become a lawyer? And work in the personal injury/workers compensation areas of law?
I saw a lot of accidents working in emergency rooms. And I saw a need with the Spanish-speaking community for all types of special services including legal services. My family had worked in pharmacies. I always enjoyed reading and writing about subjects in the medical field and the humanities. There was a huge need in the personal injury area - and believe it or not, given the huge demand there are still not enough qualified first generation Spanish-speaking injury attorneys here in L.A.
I strongly believe that fate finds you. I never expected to have a firm of this size; I started out my firm with one legal assistant, my brother Eddie. Now, we are almost 80 employees.
Tell us about how you learned you received the HNBA (Hisp. National Bar Assoc.) award?
I received it in an email; I read it and thought “Is this accurate?” I re-read it and thought “Yeah they’re referring to me!” I was elated! I forwarded the email to the whole law firm and took my family to Denver to collect the award.
What’s Your Advice for young Hispanics graduating today?
My suggestion to young people is to have goals, choose a role model, and have the “will” to never give up on your dreams. Choose a role model – someone you can look up to is really important for young Latinos - and I don’t mean having role models of boxers and soccer players. I’m talking about medical doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers. If you want to be an engineer your role model doesn’t have to be an engineer. It could be a doctor. Someone else who you think has achieved his/her goals. Having a role model gives you something to strive for and can motivate you and inspire you to say and believe “I can do this”. Education is something that no matter what, you’ll have the best of your life.
And then lastly you have to have the will to do it. That "ganas" (will). I look back. I went to a bad public school as a kid. There were a lot of fist fights and unruly things going on at my school. I don't believe I am blessed with amazing intellect - it's having the will that makes a big difference.
It worked for me.
And lastly to young Latinos, don't forget your roots where you came from and give back to the community. Life's too short.