My Take

Fast Forward

By José L. Martinez ’11
Illustration by Ellen Weinstein

The best teachers a first-generation law student ever had.

About José L. Martinez ’11

José L. Martinez ’11, former editor of the Los Angeles Loyolan, is a second-year law student at Stanford Law School. A frequent writer for LMU Magazine, he majored in theological studies in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. His interview with Emma Carrasco ’82, chief marketing officer of NPR, appears here. His essay about writing appears here.


One common conception of law school is that the first year is brutally difficult. Based on my experience, that’s true. Early in my first year, there came a revelatory moment when I realized the incredible volume of material I wasn’t understanding. There wasn’t a correlation to how hard I worked, either — I’d read case after case, and still I couldn’t grasp the Erie doctrine, or when liquidated damages are appropriate, or pretty much anything to do with product liability. This was a good revelation in terms of self-awareness, but it also made me panicky.

School had never really made me panicky before, not even at LMU. Certainly I had my fair share of stress, but as a theology major, I found there wasn’t a whole lot to panic about. Part of the reason is that my parents never put a ton of pressure on me. I think they were just thrilled I was pursuing higher education. My mom is a special education technician; my dad is an electrician. Neither went to college. They taught me the importance of a relentless work ethic, encouraged me to explore the things that interested me and were always interested in what I was doing. But if I came up short, it was enough for them to know I was trying.


In law school, trying didn’t feel like it was good enough anymore. And so this is when I began to feel most acutely that I was a first-generation student.


I have friends who come from families of lawyers, have seen what a successful legal career looks like and have been told all their life how tough that first year of law school is. These are the friends who can call their parents and ask how the felony murder rule works. (For the exam, of course.) These are the friends whose parents can point to their own experience and promise their children that a well-compensated and fulfilling career is at the end of this journey.

Then there are my parents.

Like most people, my mom doesn’t care to talk through the basics of personal jurisdiction, and my dad thinks a tort is a dessert. They were certainly always encouraging, reminding me that I earned my spot at Stanford Law School, and that at the end of the day, it’s just school. But I would have been more convinced if they’d gone to law school and could use their own experience to reassure me that those things were definitely true and that they weren’t just saying so because they were my parents.

That might have been something like what my dad was feeling when he dropped out of UC San Diego just a few months into his freshman year. It’s not exactly accurate to say that he didn’t go to college — in fact, he got a scholarship. And he certainly had the smarts. But what he didn’t have was a support system of people who knew what it was like to be in college. And so when he got overwhelmed with the feeling that he didn’t belong there — that everyone else seemed so much smarter — dropping out seemed like the best option.

My parents never let me get to that point. Sure, they can’t fully understand my law school experience, but they’ve always made it clear that they were there for me. They’ve also taught me to ask for help from people who can give it to me. So I found mentors, at LMU, Stanford and beyond, who are endlessly pointing me in the direction of opportunity. It’s paid off, because I’m thrilled with where I’m headed.

But before the mentors, there were two people who never went to college or law school yet who somehow managed to teach me everything I know in terms of how to make the most of it.

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