Catholic Law is committed to creating a supportive and collegial community. Noted for an academic environment that is infused with camaraderie, Catholic Law students genuinely want to see each other succeed. For second-year law student Nicole Rocha, this supportive atmosphere is what made Catholic Law feel like the right fit for her. “Before coming to law school, everyone always talked about the competitive nature of law school and the competitiveness of the students—which at times has fostered negative environments. Although Catholic Law is a competitive school, I have never once felt that negativity with my peers or the Law School community.”
Born in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Rocha and her family moved to the United States when she was five years old—settling in Arlington, Virginia. Already harboring an interest in the law, Rocha attended Virginia Tech University for undergrad, majoring in Political Science, Legal Studies, and English Pre-Law. By the time she reached graduation in the spring of 2020, Rocha was confident in her decision to pursue a law degree. “I decided to attend law school because I have seen firsthand the struggles that people in underrepresented groups face. I have seen how their lack of access to legal resources has impacted the outcomes in legal issues. I wanted to be able to help bridge that gap for underrepresented groups and allow them easier access to legal resources that should be available to everyone.”
Upon beginning her law school career, Rocha, like most law students across the country, was met with an entirely different start than one might expect—one dictated primarily by a global pandemic. “During my first year in law school we weren’t able to see many of the upperclassmen on campus due to the pandemic, but our peers were so great about making it a point to reach out to the 1L’s and make sure that we knew they were there for support and guidance.” She continued, “Everyone here is so eager to help each other and I believe that has been one of the main reasons that I have been able to do what I am doing at Catholic Law.”
Rocha quickly settled into law school, finding both on- and off-campus opportunities to get involved in and build critical lawyering skills. This year, Rocha is Co-President of Students for Public Interest Law (SPIL) along with classmate, Nicole Wargel. She is also Secretary of the Criminal Law Society and an active member of the Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA).
As early as spring of her first year, Rocha also made a concerted effort to participate in pro bono work. In March 2021, she participated in the Alternative Spring Break Program led by Kiva Zytnick, Associate Director of Catholic Law's Pro Bono Program & Public Interest Law. “I was able to work remotely with Attorney Imelda Maynard and her office, Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico. Through this Pro Bono Program, I was able to gain experience in immigration law, as I was able to draft asylum petitions and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications, as well as gather and sort evidence for the files. I was also able to perform research on applicable immigration law and cases.” She added, “It was an amazing experience, and I can’t wait to get involved in similar pro bono activities.”
Rocha was also a 2021 Eric D. Weissman Scholarship recipient which provides a summer stipend for students interested in public service internships for non-profit organizations, government agencies, and academic institutions. Because of this scholarship, Rocha was able to spend the summer furthering her passion for public interest law. “Thanks to this scholarship, I was able to intern at the District Court of Maryland, Montgomery County with Judge Zuberi Williams. I just want to emphasize that scholarships and programs such as the Weissman Scholarship allow students to pursue a public interest job from which they are able to aid many communities. Without them, it would not be possible.”
With the intensity of law school increasing as Rocha gets deeper into her second year, she must also take time for herself to recharge. Rocha utilizes organization and exercise to help maintain a sense of balance in her life. “I always make sure to schedule a couple of hours during the weekdays and during the weekend to do something that makes me happy and relaxed. I usually make sure to get some exercise in, whether that is a simple walk with my dog, yoga, or going to a CrossFit class.” She concluded, “I have found that if I am intentional about scheduling time off in my schedule, instead of just seeing when I possibly have time off, I am a lot better about actually taking that time—which in turn helps me focus better when it is time for me to study, do readings, and schoolwork.”