Almost 14 years ago, Ileana Hernandez became an associate at the Los Angeles office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, embarking on a path to partner. While her practice focuses on business litigation and bankruptcy, Hernandez also actively engages in giving back locally, a passion wholeheartedly supported by the firm’s founders.
Born in Boston to immigrant parents from Honduras, Hernandez’s family moved to South Pasadena, California, when she was young so her father could complete a medical fellowship at the University of Southern California.
“My parents came to the US with great hope, pride, and in search of better opportunities for both themselves and their future family,” Hernandez says. “It was my parents’ goal to provide us a great education so that we could succeed in this country as well.”
Through her parents’ dedication and determination, Hernandez and her three brothers attended private Catholic schools through high school. Hernandez later graduated from the University of California–Los Angeles with a major in political science and economics. While at UCLA, Hernandez served as an intern at the International Trade Administration, and several lawyers she worked with encouraged her to go to law school. Three years later, she received her law degree from the University of Southern California.
“My father always viewed living in the US as an incredible privilege, and he frequently reminded me of how lucky I was to be in a country that offered so many opportunities if you worked hard,” Hernandez says. “My parents also strongly believed that, as Latinos, we had an obligation to give back to our community and those less fortunate.”
Hernandez’s parental influence was bolstered by her law school mentor, Professor Erwin Chermerinsky, who encouraged Hernandez to participate in legal clinics and work with public-interest organizations to not only gain legal experience, but also to understand the importance of being a lawyer and the obligation to assist those who could not afford legal services. When she found her way to Manatt, Hernandez knew she’d found the firm where she was meant to be because of its strong charitable stance.
“Manatt has committed itself to promoting the ability of all citizens to have access to the legal system, which is reflected through a proactive pro bono program spearheaded by a full-time director of pro bono activities, and a view that pro bono matters receive the same attention, staffing, and resources as our commercial/billable matters,” Hernandez says. In fact, Manatt recommends that each partner perform at least 30 hours of pro bono work per year, though many staff members, like Hernandez, far exceed this recommendation, performing double or triple the recommended amount.
Hernandez focuses her pro bono work at Manatt on Spanish-speaking individuals and families, particularly those involved in adoption or guardianship cases, children seeking asylum in the United States, and battered women seeking permanent resident status. “Representing individuals on these types of cases has been the most fulfilling aspect of my legal career,” she says.
Manatt also has been incredibly supportive of Hernandez’s philanthropic work outside of the firm. “My parents instilled in me a passion for education, so I work with organizations which stress the importance of education, and access to educational resources, for Latino youth,” she says. “I view education as the key to success and I want young Latinos to understand that [education] is your ticket to a better future.”
Hernandez’s philanthropic efforts include serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hispanic College Fund, a national organization focused on preparing and motivating Latino high school students for college. Her other charity of choice is the Hispanic National Bar Foundation which, among other activities, sponsors the Future Latino Leaders Law Camp each year, a nine-day program providing Latino high school students the opportunity to learn more about the legal profession.
Though Hernandez’s current family commitments limit her ability to expand her charitable work for now, in the future, she hopes to serve in another board leadership role for a charitable organization, helping to give direction to daily activities and growth.
“I would encourage others who are looking to give back to find something that you are passionate about and that excites you,” she says. “You should think about what fulfills you, where you feel a connection, and then do what you can to make a difference.”