First-Generation Student Ran Toward Challenges
Coming into law school as a first-generation American and a first-generation college graduate, Camilo Garcia was nervous enough about his law school prospects to spend the summer before his 1L year researching what law school would be like.
“I was kind of worried that I would come in and there’d be a lot of people whose parents are lawyers,” he said. Whether his fears were justified or not, Garcia rose to the challenge. He will graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law on May 22, having entered his final year as a recipient of the Jackson Walker LLP Award for having the highest GPA after four semesters.
Garcia, who originally hails from Barranquilla, Colombia, moved to Miami when he was 13, and only then started to master English.
“I couldn’t have expected to be where I am today,” he said. “I realized pretty early on that I really liked law school and I think that helps.”
Garcia is headed to the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr in Washington, D.C., then will clerk for Judge James E. Boasberg on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for the 2023 term, and Judge Sri Srinivasan at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for the 2024 term.
“It’s definitely going to be sort of a crash course in administrative law because that’s what those courts mainly see in D.C., but those are two judges who are incredibly well respected, great writers — and great people from the various interactions I’ve already had with them,” he said. “I’m sure that I’ll learn a ton from them.”
Garcia has plenty of experience facing a challenge and excelling. Though at first living in Miami, a city with a significant Latino presence, he still had to navigate “a huge cultural gap” over the years.
“People will talk about what they grew up with — the shows they watched, the things they did” that are different, he said, but “it’s kind of nice to be able to live in two different cultures, because it’s not like I abandoned my previous culture, but I’ve come to learn more about this one. I think it’s nice to be able to straddle those two worlds.”
Garcia started thinking about studying law in high school while taking AP Government. His experiences interning with his congressman during his senior year in high school firmed up his interest in learning more about the structure of government and the Supreme Court.
“I thought that I wanted to serve,” Garcia said — specifically in the federal government.
He fulfilled his interest in learning about the high court, and then some, as a student in the Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.
“I think the most valuable part of the clinic has been to learn how the Supreme Court actually works from within — learning about what clerks do, how they screen petitions for certiorari, how they actually go about deciding the case and how they write opinions, and what leads to what we see, which is the final opinions themselves.”
During his first semester of law school, Garcia did something most 1Ls don’t usually attempt.
“What a lot of people tell you is don’t take on anything your first semester — don’t volunteer with student groups, don’t do pro bono — just focus on getting your bearings in class,” he said. “And I didn’t get that advice, or if I did, I just completely ignored it because I kind of wanted to get some experience. I knew one or two lawyers, but I didn’t know much of what they did.”
As an intern at the Rutherford Institute, he analyzed First Amendment case law and religious liberty and free-exercise clause exemptions.
His second year, he added on other activities — he was an editor on the Virginia Law Review, a mentor for the St. Thomas More Society and a mentor for the Latin American Law Organization.
Garcia also praised the value that Law School events brought to his experiences outside the classroom.
“I think it’s sort of a really rich intellectual milieu,” he said. “They have events where you have federal judges come, and you have professors from other schools. You have people who practice in all sorts of areas — public interest, nonprofits, government, private practice — just being able to go to those events has been one of my favorite parts of being at a school like UVA.”
That intellectual environment was somewhat disrupted starting during his first year of law school, as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Then the natural environment in Charlottesville, and the ability to take a walk outside and participate in activities like Barristers United, a student soccer club, became paramount.
“I really enjoy being at a place where you’re not in a huge city, because you get to enjoy the outdoors so much,” he said.
While he took classes online only during his second year, his habit of scheduling out his time was critical to his well-being, he said.
“I think it was especially helpful to have some kind of structure,” he said, considering he spent his school days and nights largely at home in Charlottesville. “Thankfully, now things are starting to feel normal — or kind of normal — again.”
Over the past three years, Garcia worked as a research assistant for Professors A. E. Dick Howard ’61, Richard Re and Richard Schragger, and took Federal Courts — an important course for future federal clerks — with Re as well.
“It was just a great class,” Garcia said. “I mean, it’s huge — you cover a lot of stuff and he’s really good at making you think about the topics and not just learn the rules.”
Garcia helped Re with research on judicial discretion, how to balance different inputs into legal interpretation and so-called “hypothetical jurisdiction.” The professor praised his former student for being “a brilliant legal thinker and a conscientious person.”
“He has an especially great knack for drilling down beneath the surface of legal rules and discovering their theoretical foundations,” Re said. “As a result, Camilo often find new arguments and possibilities that had gone overlooked.”
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.