Guest Speakers Peter Siegel and Alejandro Leiva Come to MLEC

By Edysmar Diaz-Cruz

MIAMI LAKES – Journalism and Law, two seemingly distinct fields, came together on May 4 as lawyers Peter Siegel and Alejandro Leiva, visited The Harbinger newspaper staff. The two spoke of their experiences at law school before becoming labor and employment lawyers at Greenspoon Marder Firm.

In high school, Siegel took a career aptitude test that told him that he should be a lawyer or a journalist. At the time, he did not see what the fields had in common. But after learning about both, participating in college radio and print journalism, he came to see that the two fields are very similar. He noted that both require the ability to speak clearly, listen attentively, and write well.

In law, he explained, it is important to ask the right questions, and— most importantly— to listen. Journalists do the same.

What tilted the balance for Siegel, however, was the versatility that a career in law provides and the ability to bring about immediate and lasting change. Like in the case of Trump’s travel ban which the courts blocked.

“It was not a politician, not a Congressman that stopped the travel ban; it was a group of young lawyers,” said Siegel about lawyers like Washington state Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson who challenged the legality of the President’s travel ban.

Lawyers, he emphasized, can bring about the most change.

“If you want to have the power to bring about change, the power of persuasion, then consider law school,” he said.

But, he warned, the law, particularly in his field— labor and employment law— is constantly evolving. Laws aren’t written in stone; they change as society changes. And so he is always learning.

“Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as LGBT rights issues but today it exists. I’ve had to handle court cases regarding the use of bathrooms for people who identify as ‘other’,” he said.  

Transgender rights and corresponding laws were not a topic that Siegel had to learn during his time in law school. It’s only recently, he said, after Bruce Jenner identified as Caitlyn Jenner on various news platforms, that businesses and companies sought legal assistance to navigate the complex issue of bathroom laws and civil rights. Even the wording of mandatory dress codes for employees have changed.

To keep up with current events like these, and the legal issues that arise as a result, Siegel reads three newspapers including The Washington Post and New York Times, along with several other publications in print and online.

“I bet that there’s three articles on today’s front pages that have to do with current court cases,” he said while pointing at the bundle of newspapers he brought in a manila folder.

In addition to keeping up with current events, Siegel likes to engage in discussions, conversations, oftentimes debates. The truth, he said, is the “residue” that results from two opposing arguments.

He is concerned, however, that with the rise of social media and the way young people are interconnected today, the skill of communication, and therefore debate, will be lost.  

“Don’t lose the ability to talk to people,” he said, adding that it is important to have conversations outside of social media to learn from people with views, opinions, and experiences different from our own.

A point that his associate Alejandro Leiva, a young lawyer who recently graduated from Florida International University Law School, agreed with.

“Unlike Peter, I did grow up with smartphones, email and social media,” he said, adding that it was both an asset and a handicap. Information is more available than ever, but it has made people less likely to talk to one another.

“Don’t be afraid to disconnect from Snapchat and Instagram. It allows you to be present,” Leiva said, concluding that the best preparation for law school, and for his career, was to know about current issues, to understand them, and to write well.

His last semester of law school, he told a law professor, whom he liked and admired, that what he wanted most was to be happy, to have a job that he loved and was happy to go to every day.  His professor responded with what Leiva said was the worst advice he ever got.

“He told me to ‘stop being a millennial and accept whichever job offer comes first.’ I never talked to him again.”

Instead, Leiva recommends that students take as many writing courses as they can and that they continue to read, learn, and become involved in organizations like the Model UN. And to talk to people.

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