Karen Cortés CTLatinoNews.com
A career in Connecticut was never part of Ilia O’Hearn’s plans. But in the 26 years since she traveled from Puerto Rico to Storrs to attend UConn, O’Hearn has not only managed to develop an impressive work portfolio, but has also spent numerous volunteer hours educating others about the law.
Though her own career is well-established, O’Hearn, who is an associate attorney with the international law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, is a long time mentor of young Latinos through her work with the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association (CHBA).
As one of CHBA’s mentors and a board member, O’Hearn focus is to make sure that up-and-coming Latino students and lawyers are exposed to the opportunities available in the legal field and have access to the information that will help them succeed. “I let them know that the practice of law can be more than what they see on ‘Law & Order,'” says O’Hearn
She shares with them her experiences about extracurricular activities, internships, and clerkships, and introduces them to attorneys, helps with resumes and interviewing skills, and answers questions about law school, “so they have a better law school experience than I had,” said O’Hearn, who attended law school while working full time as a Certified Public Accountant.
There were some missed opportunities that she says would have enhanced her experience, such as writing for a journal or moot court. “My CPA job was my extracurricular activity while attending law school. I wish I had done a clerkship after graduating rather than going straight to a law firm. I think working closely with judges and other clerks is a great experience for a young lawyer and I recommend my mentees to consider that,” she says.
O’Hearn has been a member of CHBA since her time as a student at the University of Connecticut School of Law, when she served as student liaison to the organization. “I met great mentors, including Raphael Santiago who I am still in touch with today.”
O’Hearn, who graduated in 1993 with a degree in accounting from UCONN, says it was her interactions with attorneys in her accounting work that inspired her interest to study law. “Law school was a way for me to continue my professional development, and at the time I didn’t contemplate leaving my accounting job for a legal career. However, as law school went on I developed more of an interest. I took bankruptcy law and realize that there was another way that I could combine my business and accounting background with the law,” she says.
“I am an intellectually curious person who enjoys challenging work. I think that is what drives me to move forward professionally,” says O’Hearn, who recently took another step to enhance her education and knowledge of the law. In a ceremony held on April 6, O’Hearn was one of 50 Connecticut attorneys to be admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar.
“Will I ever argue a case before the Supreme Court? Who knows?” says O’Hearn. But her admission does provide her with a front row seat to justice in action. Attorneys who are admitted as members of the Supreme Court Bar may be seated in the chairs just beyond the bronze railing that separates public seating from the courtroom during court proceedings.
O’Hearn met Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel J. Alito, Jr. after her swearing-in ceremony. “It was an honor to be there. These people may change your life one day. It was an opportunity I may never have again.”
While O’Hearn has clearly worked to take advantage of the opportunities that have come her way, O’Hearn looks forward to continuing to give the students she mentors that same chance – opportunities that will open doors for them.