Going to law school was something that Mariel Mercado-Guevara ’15 always knew she would do “one day.” A self-described Army brat who has lived all over the world, Mercado-Guevara was influenced by the example of her father who, after retiring as an Army Sergeant First Class, in the 1990s became a Hispanic consumer advisor to Maryland Governor William Donald Schaeffer. Accompanying him to events, she had a bird’s eye view of how to be an effective liaison between the Hispanic community and government offices.
“My late father’s experience,” she explains, “showed me how education can empower communities to be a part of the political process and create a more vibrant, knowledgeable, and cohesive community.” Similarly, the importance of becoming the best lawyer you can be as a way to help the Hispanic community was the central message she took away from her experience as a participant in the highly-selective Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA)/Microsoft IP Law Institute.
In college Mercado-Guevara pursued an interest that at the time was stronger than law. She received undergraduate (cum laude) and graduate (magna cum laude) degrees in music, with a focus on vocal performance, from Boston University. While at BU, she also worked as a recording engineer, which exposed her to some of the intellectual property issues she would later encounter while working at a boutique IP law firm and at Rutgers School of Law–Newark.
|Mariel Mercado-Guevara ’15 (2nd from right) with (l-r) Cynthia Mares, HNBA president-elect; Mick Konowal of Microsoft; Miguel Alexander Pozo ’98, HNBA president; and Horacio Guttierez of Microsoft.|
As a professional opera singer, Mercado-Guevara spent five years performing mezzo-soprano roles at theatres around the country, including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. “Expressing myself every night in front of a live audience was a natural high and my favorite thing about performing opera professionally,” she recalls.
“However, the lifestyle was not for me.” She discovered she had allergies, which made it harder to have a healthy voice; moving every few months and living out of a suitcase were not conducive to maintaining long-term relationships. “I knew that I wanted to have a family and settle down one day, so I chose to settle in the New York/New Jersey area to be close to the city that is the musical and cultural capital of the world in order to keep that a part of my life.”
In 2008, married and the mother of a young son (she now has two sons, ages five and seven), with a professional opera career behind her and having gained office experience as a realtor, an executive assistant and a community organizer as Barack Obama’s New Jersey Hispanic Campaign Coordinator, Mercado-Guevara decided that before committing to law school, she would take a job at a law firm. She began working as a legal secretary at Kenyon & Kenyon LLP – and loved it. When a senior attorney with the firm, who is also an Adjunct Professor at Cardozo Law School, asked, “Have you ever thought of law school?” her “one day” had arrived.
An evening student, Mercado-Guevara continued to work her first three years of law school at Kenyon & Kenyon, most recently part-time as a legal intern. Last summer she enrolled in the Rutgers Community Law Clinic (now known as the Community and Transactional Lawyering Clinic), which she describes as “by far the best class I have taken so far.” Under the supervision of Clinical Professors John Kettle, Charles Auffant and Robert Holmes, she worked with trademark and copyright clients, startup businesses, and on a guardianship case. “Putting what I learned in class into practice and the client services skills that I developed really solidified for me that deciding to become a lawyer was the right decision.”
Given her IP experiences and interest in copyright and trademark matters, Mercado-Guevara was urged by both Professor Kettle and her mentors at Kenyon and Kenyon to apply for the HNBA/Microsoft IP Law Institute. She was one of 25 law students from around the country selected to receive a scholarship to participate in the June 1 – 7, 2014 immersion program in Washington, DC. The IP Law Institute, whose goal is to increase the number of Latino lawyers in IP practice, allows participants to receive substantive instruction, visit and observe U.S. intellectual property law institutions, and network with leading members of the IP legal community who can serve as mentors and potentially provide pathways for future job opportunities.
The highlights of the HNBA/Microsoft IP Law Institute were many, including a visit to the White House for a conversation with the IP and International Trade Counsel to the President and presentations by Disney TV, media and film legal executives. For Mercado-Guevara, two other experiences were particularly inspiring. The first was a day at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) hosted by Judge Jimmie V. Reyna.
The HNBA/Microsoft IPLI Scholars were briefed by Judge Reyna’s law clerk on a case involving an electronic medical records patent and then heard oral argument in the case. A poor and underprepared argument by a junior USPTO attorney before the three-judge panel made Mercado-Guevara realize that the attorney “could be any one of us fresh out of law school. It was very humbling and made me want to work harder to ensure that does not happen to me.”
At the closing of a private seminar that he hosted, Judge Reyna, the first Mexican American appointed Judge on the CAFC, when asked by the students how they can help the Hispanic community, said: “Finish school, pass the bar, and become the best lawyer you can be – that is how you can help our community. When you pass the bar, you are granted a ticket, a ticket that comes with power. You can do good or do bad with that power and I have chosen to do good. But you can’t do anything if you don’t pass the bar.” Earlier in the day, during a special writing seminar that Judge Reyna conducted for the students, he emphasized that legal writing, studying and scholarship are the only ways to distinguish oneself as a Hispanic lawyer.
The HNBA/Microsoft IP Law Institute was an eye-opening experience that regenerated my passion to finish my legal studies, pass the bar, become the best lawyer that I can be, and eventually work in government and public service.
A second highlight for Mercado-Guevara was a private Congressional briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building on a range of policy issues, including IP, immigration, and Veterans Affairs, and an inside look at the nuts-and-bolts of policymaking. “We were able to speak with John Amaya, Senator Leahy’s legal counsel behind the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act – an important patent policy change that was passed and implemented last year. He happens to be Hispanic and when asked how we can help our community, he answered very similarly to what Judge Reyna said: Be the best lawyers you can be, achieve and access corporate board rooms, partnership at law firms, and elected office, because then you will be able to impact the change you seek for your community.”
After returning from the program, Mercado-Guevara began her summer judicial internship with the Hon. Lourdes I. Santiago ’81 of the Superior Court, Hudson County. This summer she is also taking Professor Kettle’s Copyright and Trademark class.
Despite a heavy schedule, she still finds opportunities to sing. She sang an evening of chamber music with the New York City Bar Association in February, the National Anthem at the HBA-NJ Gala at MetLife Stadium in May, and a couple of arias during several dinner/networking events with the HNBA/Microsoft IP Law Institute Program. “My instrument is always with me,” she says. “It is therapeutic for me, like meditation, to sing. I actually also randomly sang an excerpt of Handel’s ‘Alleluia’ one evening after my last exam 2L year in the courtyard behind Rutgers Law School, which expressed how relieved I felt to be done with that year of law studies!”
Describing her family as her motivation, inspiration and stress relievers, Mercado-Guevara says: “I am a wife and mother of two wonderful boys and my family is the reason that I do everything I do. I could not possibly do this without my husband and thank him every day for encouraging me to be the best that I can be.”
“The HNBA/Microsoft IP Law Institute,” she continues, “was an eye-opening experience that regenerated my passion to finish my legal studies, pass the bar, become the best lawyer that I can be, and eventually work in government and public service. Through my legal career, I would like to continue my late father’s legacy to serve my Hispanic community in the best way that I can in the future.”