Meet Benny Agosto, President, Hispanic National Bar Association [Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, The]
|By Hoogeveen, Paul|
The current president of the
In an interview with The Hispanic Outlook in
The Hispanic Outlook: Thank you for taking the time for this interview Let's talk for a minute about your childhood and early family life.
HO: Did anyone in your family follow through with the business?
Agosto: No, not really. We had a jewelry store and a factory. My dad and my mom both went to school only through the sixth grade, so their goal was to get us all educated, and not so much instill the craft. It would have been a good idea, I guess, but they were more interested in seeing us get educated, and pushed hard for that.
HO: When did you first start thinking about what you would do with your life? What led you to decide to go to college?
Agosto: I played soccer for the
HO: Did you plan on studying law?
Agosto: I first thought I'd be a medical doctor. I studied biology and chemistry and all that in college. But as an athlete in college, I'd had to play sports, so when I graduated I didn't have all my classes in line to go to medical school, and had to go to graduate school. I did that in biology with the hope that I would go to medical school. And with the turns that life gives us, I ended up teaching for about six years. At that point, I decided I needed to go back to school because the college I was teaching at was telling me I had to go further in my education.
That's when I decided to go to law school. I had gone through undergraduate studies in biology and chemistry and then had moved to graduate school in biology and was teaching at
HO: How did you end up in
Agosto: The folks from
HO: What made you choose law over medicine?
Agosto: I think the beauty of the law - and I teach a lot of young people this - is that becoming a lawyer allows you to have options that a specialized post-graduate degree does not offer. When I was a biology major, I had only one option: go back and get a Ph.D. in biology, and then work either in private industry or teach biology. There's not much else you can do. So instead of going back for my Ph.D. (in biology), I decided to switch and become a lawyer because that would offer me the opportunity to teach or to work in private or public areas. A law degree allowed me to have those options, and I was encouraged by that. Once I was in law school, I realized that my skills - both bilingual skills and skills as an athlete - would translate effectively into litigation, so I turned to litigation.
HO: What was your first professional post after completing your law degree?
Agosto: I worked for a judge here in
HO: Did you do pro bono work as well?
Agosto: Because Spanish is my first language and I realized that I can help sometimes-downtrodden folks, I was able to do pro bono. I've done pro bono through my entire career. I do about 75 to 100 hours a year of pro bono work, which is a lot. I've actually taken cases all the way to the
HO: Can you provide an example of some pro bono work you've done?
Agosto: The landmark case that I handled on a pro bono basis was a case called Harris County v. Hinojosa.
HO: Were you involved with any other important cases?
Agosto: Here's another example. For over a decade, I've been writing law reviews on behalf of workers who've been injured on the job. That's a very typical issue that I've fought for all these years. I'm of the strong opinion that if undocumented workers are arrested, they need to go through the process; that's the law of this country I believe we need to have border security and everything that is associated with it. However, if an undocumented worker is working in any capacity, if they're injured because of the negligence of others, they need to be treated just like anybody else. One thing is to be in deportation proceedings, which is necessary by law in this country; another is to treat everybody equally. I had the privilege to represent a family on this issue when an undocumented 21year-old worker was killed on the job. The case went up on appeal, and the issue was that they didn't want to pay compensation for his lost wages or lost earning capacity because he was undocumented. I was able to fight that in the
HO: Do you think that you would consider going back to teaching in the future?
Agosto: I will go back to teaching when I'm ready to retire from my litigation days because I really love teaching. Right now, I'm very active in the community teaching young children; I'm very strong in the legal education pipeline, teaching fourth- and fifth-graders about the law and how to become a lawyer. I've also written a book that's about to be published called
HO: Do you have any thoughts or advice for Hispanic students who are considering postsecondary education?
Agosto: I really believe in the education of all people, but particularly the Latino community. We have 17.2 million Latinos in this country that are under the age of 18 - so we have a lot of young Latinos and Latinas that are coming up through the ranks. When we look into the studies that the
HO: Thank you very much for your thoughts and your time.
Agosto: Thank you. I appreciate it.
|Copyright:||(c) 2011 The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education|