South Bend lawyers celebrate opportunity to represent those without a voice

Rudy Monterrosa lives by the phrase, “if they can do it, I can do it.” And he certainly did.

They were parents with the American dream. Immigrating from El Salvador and Guadalajara, Monterrosa's parents settled in San Francsico in the late 1960s where they would have two sons.

Monterrosa says the work he does now embodies the passion and spirit his parents instilled in him and his brother. He says seeing the process his parents went through to become legal citizens made him realize he wanted to pursue a career in law.

“Despite the fact that they were from another country, that they were still to be able to be successful in this country, was really important in our upbringing. To see them navigate intricacies and complexities of the immigration system by the time we were born, I think both my parents we’re legal permanent residents, but to see them go through the process to become a citizen and my other family members, as well, that made me want to make sure that I can be somebody that can help somebody out in the same position that my parents were back in the day,” Monterrosa said.

He attended Standford where he received his degree in psychology. He worked in public relations for the LA Times for a while after graduating, which gave him the opportunity to consider going to Notre Dame for law school.

And in August 1998, he first stepped foot in South Bend. Monterrosa realized there was a void with a big need for bilingual legal services and there were very few people of color representing clients as attorneys in St. Joseph County. He knew he had to stay in South Bend. Monterrosa graduated in May of 2001 and passed his bar exam in November of 2001.

He began taking on clients and represented people in court as soon as he passed the bar. It wasn’t until 2017 that he and his wife Cecilia opened their own law firm- Monterrosa Law Group LLC. The firm, Monterrosa says, is the vision of providing representation to those who do not have a voice. The firm specializes in criminal defense, immigration and family law.

Monterrosa and his wife currently serve as adjunct professors at Notre Dame law school teaching immigration law and public defenders' course, a full circle moment for the man who stepped foot for the first time in South Bend years ago.

With 22 years in law, Monterrosa says it’s rewarding to help the people who don’t have a voice.

“We’re here to serve our community. I'm grateful that the community was able to support us throughout the years, that we’re in the place we are today. That we can serve on boards, be elected officials, that we can be leaders in not only the Latino community but in the South Bend community as well. For that, I'm grateful. And the fact I'm able to do that with my wife and classmate makes it that much better,” Monterrosa said.

Similar to her husband, Cecilia was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her parents immigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles. She says neither had a middle school or elementary school education but made sure the family was loved and taken care of.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Monterrosa described it as rough as gang violence was at an all-time high. In 1992, LA had riots for Rodney King. According to Monterrosa, despite the horrible events and destruction that occurred, she was inspired to pursue a legal career since she saw people working together to rebuild a city.

She attended the University of California to get her undergrad and graduated in 2010. After graduation, she attended Valparaiso University for law school.

Earlier this month, Monterrosa received one of the city’s highest honors. A billboard dedicated to honor local Latino leaders. Monterrosa says that being a Latina woman, it’s her responsibility to show young women that it can be done.

“I want to show someone, little girls that it can be done and to give them options. I think that being in a field that is still predominately male, I think it’s important to show there’s other things that we can do. And that we have these options now and we can do them and do them well,” Lopez Monterrosa said.

Monterrosa says every day is a dream with her dream career and doing it alongside her husband.

“Sometimes it feels like it’s not real. Like ‘am I really doing this? Have I really been practicing law for that long?’ Sometimes I go to court and I walk out and go ‘I’m a lawyer’. I still get nervous to go to court. It's very fulfilling in the way that I can work with my husband. I do love the work that I do. I do enjoy working for my clients. I enjoy representing them. I enjoy the challenge,” Lopez Monterrosa said.

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