Monday January 30, 2017

Sisters in Law

Sisters Lizbeth and Tammy Chavez have shared a lot through the years: a bedroom, a family car, the same undergraduate school and major in social work.

Soon they will share a background that positions them to be a voice and counsel for immigrants and Spanish-speaking citizens in need of legal help. This May, the Chavez family will have a double celebration as the sisters graduate from Dayton Law and embark on legal careers focusing on social advocacy.

“My sister and I have always been best friends,” Lizbeth says.
Sisters Lizbeth (left) and Tammy Chavez share a special desk in the Law LibraryThe demands of law school often take the sisters away from family, so they’ve created a special place on the third floor of Zimmerman Library to look like home. Natural light streams onto the desk they’ve designated as their own – their territory marked by two vases of white silk flowers.

“We showed up one day and someone was sitting at our table,” Tammy jokes. “Now people know.”

And the trend has spread. An aloe plant has sprouted up around the corner at another student’s spot.

The sisters’ bond, always close, grew even stronger when their family moved to Dayton during high school. They struggled to adjust to the climate of a new city -- and not just the temperature.

“We grew up in California where Hispanics were the majority in our community, so we had never experienced discrimination,” Tammy says. “And although we met wonderful people when we first moved to Ohio, we were also faced with vast discrimination. It shaped our paths toward social work and now law.”

Their fluency in Spanish allowed them to volunteer at Cincinnati’s Su Casa Hispanic Center as undergraduates. They traveled to Washington D.C. with United We Dream, a youth-led organization that advocates for the dignity and fair treatment of immigrant youth and families.

“It was very empowering to travel on a bus packed with people to lobby for student rights, to help undocumented people access education and support the movement toward reform for a path to citizenship for students and their parents,” Tammy says. The experience inspired her to participate in the Dayton Law & Leadership Institute, a program that inspires and prepares high school students to attend college.

Lizbeth’s externship, a mandatory component of Dayton Law’s curriculum, expanded her legal research and writing skills along with her concern for human rights. She drafted motions and briefs in support of asylum cases and wrote memorandums regarding current immigration issues for Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio.

The sisters also volunteer at UD’s Law Clinic where they serve as translators for fellow law students with Spanish-speaking clients. And though immigration law is central to the sisters’ purpose, each has developed individual areas of interest during school -- Lizbeth in employment law and litigation, and Tammy in trusts and estates law.

Tammy, a confessed “numbers person,” not only helps to manage her family’s business, but also interned for the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office Appellate Division. Last summer she began clerking for Butler County Probate Court Judge Randy T. Rogers and this semester Lizbeth also will clerk for Rogers, working on adoption cases.

Lizbeth is a member of Dayton’s Moot Court team and both sisters are involved in the university’s Law Review. Tammy is the business editor and Lizbeth is currently writing a comment on whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to arrests made during exigent circumstances. She’s passionate about her research, which explores whether police should be trained to respond differently to people with mental disabilities.

The Chavez sisters celebrate one another’s accomplishments and lift each other through difficult times, often running interference when the other is hurting. “We are very good for each other because whenever she is down, I’m high-spirited,” Tammy says. “When I am down, she brings me up.”

Their parents, Juan and Estela, are their bedrock, Tammy says: “Before every final or exam, they say a prayer for us and send encouraging text messages. When we have a rough week, we get home to sweet gifts or special dinners. Law school simply would not be possible without our family.”

Both women strive to provide that same support to their four siblings. “My sister and I try to make every basketball game, soccer game and other important events, but that is not always a possibility,” Lizbeth says.

They are surprised by how fast three years have gone by and still laugh about their first visits to Keller Hall. (Admissions staff thought Tammy had returned for another tour, but it was actually Lizbeth.) They aren’t twins, but the family resemblance is so strong that fellow students and professors sometimes still mistake one for the other.

Most of all, they like to reminisce about the welcoming atmosphere at Dayton Law, and the way they knew right away they had made the right choice.

“I could not be happier about attending law school together,” Tammy says.

"The best part about law school,” Lizbeth concurs, “has been sharing this experience with my sister and working together to achieve our goals.”

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