Faculty Spotlight ~ Antoinette Sedillo Lopez
Law professor breaks barriers
By Laurie Mellas Ramirez
|Professor of Law Antoinette Sedillo Lopez works with third year law student Anna Martinez in the clinic.
About 50 Hispanic women nationwide are law professors while fewer than 20 hold administrative posts. Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education lists only two associate deans of law who are also Hispanic women, including UNM Professor of Law Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.
“When I became the first Hispanic female to get tenure at this law school in 1992, it was sobering to think that it had taken that long,” Sedillo Lopez said.
In 2001, she was named director of the Clinical Law Program. A year later, she was promoted to associate dean, which she feels was the “next inevitable door to open.”
“I have always thought it important for the ‘firsts’ who go through the doors of opportunity to keep those doors open for others coming behind. I think that means more than being a role model, but being a mentor and an advocate,” she said.
Sedillo Lopez supervises a clinic consistently ranked among the best in the nation. Third year students are required to help staff the program – among the largest law practices in the state – to gain real life skills before entering the profession.
“It’s kind of the capstone experience. The education students receive in the clinic is priceless. When I speak to alumni about their legal education, they remember their clinical experience best,” she said.
Sedillo Lopez gained similar knowledge while attending law school at the University of California, Los Angeles. She volunteered with Centro Legal de Santa Monica providing legal services for the disadvantaged.
The daughter of a Valencia County magistrate, she returned to New Mexico and spent three years in private practice. After teaching a class on women and the law at UNM, she devoted her career to teaching and creating equal access to legal services.
On faculty since 1986, Sedillo Lopez founded UNM’s Access to Justice Practitioner Network, a group of about 70 lawyers who provide “low bono” or reduced-fee services to clients the clinical program is unable to serve.
The law school, on average, refers 100 clients per month to the network. “Even if half of those are taken by lawyers, it’s a big impact in the community,” she said.
Sedillo Lopez teaches family law and professional responsibility but has taught the gamut. The state’s greatest unmet need for legal services is linked with families and poverty, she said.
“We’ve been putting band aids on cancer,” she said, “but we are working on a new economic development clinic that we hope can help alleviate poverty.”
“I like the way this position has evolved. I enjoy feeling as if I am doing something worthwhile,” she noted.