Fear no barrier

USC Gould School of Law • June 21, 2021
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Nina Huerta (JD 2003) takes on charge to diversify law profession

By Diane Krieger

Nina Huerta (JD 2003)

“Dismal” is the word Nina Huerta (JD 2003) uses to describe Latino representation in the legal profession. 

“I wish I could say the needle has moved over the last decade, but it has only changed fractionally,” says the co-chair of Locke Lord LLP’s national board of director, one of the first Latinas to serve in that capacity at a major law firm.

According to the 2019 Report Card on the Diversity of California’s Legal Profession, in a state where 36 percent of the adult population is Latino, only 7 percent of lawyers fall in that demographic. 

“There are so many systemic and economic barriers to getting smart, qualified attorneys through the legal pipeline,” says Huerta, a leading employment attorney and managing partner of her firm’s Los Angeles office. 

Fundraising for the future

As executive board president of the Mexican American Bar Foundation (MABF), she is getting impressive results. MABF awards more scholarship money than any other organization of its kind. 

A spin-off of the Mexican American Bar Association, the nonprofit funds Latino heritage students attending ABA-accredited law schools in Southern California. Under Huerta’s stewardship, MABF has boosted scholarship awards to as much as $10,000 apiece. Last year, MABF distributed $252,000 to 28 recipients. A handful typically go to USC Gould students, including one co-sponsored by the school (the MABF-USC Latino Alumni Association Scholar).

Huerta is also active in Just the Beginning, serving on the steering committee of the Chicago-based nonprofit’s weeklong immersive Summer Legal Institute for underrepresented high schoolers. More locally, she spearheads Locke Lord’s participation in the Verbum Dei Internship Program.

When she isn’t working on Latino access to law school, Huerta is fully engaged in her legal practice. She’s active in the LA County Bar Association and the National Employment Law Council, and co-leads Locke Lord's COVID-19 Task Force. 

Strong support makes the difference

Her most formative experiences at USC were working one-on-one with clients in the Employment Legal Advice Clinic and hanging out with classmates at Professor Jody Armour’s house. She chose USC Gould because of the small-school culture. 

A strong support system was important to Huerta, who has deep roots in Arizona. She grew up on a ranch that had been in the family since her great-great-grandmother purchased it under the 1877 Desert Land Act. She was the only member of her family to move out of state, after graduating summa cum laude from Arizona State University.

Husband Mark Simone is an established film industry special effects producer. The couple has two daughters ages nine and three.

“I hate it,” Huerta says, “when people say: ‘You can be a good mom and a good lawyer—just not on the same day.’ My life isn’t split in fractions. I’m doing the best that I can, and I am pretty comfortable with that.”

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