Finding Purpose in the Law

Feb 13 2020

As an undergrad at the University of San Diego, Monica Sherman Ghiglia ’09 wavered between becoming a professional writer, working at the United Nations, and everything in between.

“Ultimately, I decided to pursue a law degree because I felt it would give me a strong foundation to pursue any of those options.”

For law school, Ghiglia chose California Western because of the school’s focus on practical learning opportunities.

“I really appreciated the school's focus on practical training,” says Ghiglia. “There were a number of programs and clinics that seemed to really prepare law students for real work as an attorney, and that was very attractive to me. They really helped prepare me for the ‘real world.’”

As a child, Ghiglia watched her mother go through the immigration process, and that experience sparked an interest in her to learn more about the field. Her interest flourished at Cal Western, as Ghiglia’s first internship was in immigration law.

“I was drawn to law because I wanted to find a career within which I could help others,” says Ghiglia. “With immigration, I just fell in love with the field. I loved that it offered me the opportunity to help people from all different backgrounds and cultures. I learned how difficult the immigration process could be and how important finding a trusted advocate was to those going through the process.”

Ghiglia cites ’81 grad and Adjunct Professor Lilia Velasquez’s Immigration Law class as pivotal in her law school education and invaluable. “I learned so much from her class that I still reference in my practice today,” she admits.

She also singles out Professor James Cooper, Director of Proyecto ACCESO, a rule of law skills training, legal reform, and public education program for Latin America. “I interned with Proyecto and learned a lot through that hands-on opportunity,” says Ghiglia.

An internship at Casa Cornelia Law Center in her third year was to prove a life-changing experience for Ghiglia. The experience and lessons learned have remained with her to this day, as she develops her career as an immigration attorney.

“Casa Cornelia’s clinical program allowed me to represent a detained asylum seeker before an immigration judge,” says Ghiglia. “I learned so much through that experience about how to represent clients with tenacity, compassion, and care. This experience led me to want to pursue immigration law as a lifelong career path.”

Today, as an associate attorney at global immigration law firm Fragomen, Ghiglia has found her true calling as she represents a portfolio of multinational corporate clients in employment-based immigration matters. She assists clients with the management of nonimmigrant and immigrant visa programs and advises them on I-9/E-Verify compliance, updates on the latest immigration procedures and trends, and the development of sound immigration policies.

“Working at Fragomen has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Ghiglia. “I've been able to grow as an attorney in so many ways. My colleagues and mentors at Fragomen have taught me so much about what it means to be a zealous advocate for your clients.”

Ghiglia has never lost sight of the importance of pro bono work and continues as a volunteer attorney for Casa Cornelia. She prepares VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) petitions for immigrant victims of domestic violence, and U visa petitions for immigrant victims of crimes.

“The organization has always meant a lot to me since my early days as an intern there,” says Ghiglia. “The work is so needed and extremely rewarding. It is also a very well-run non-profit organization, which reaches so many people in need. I continue to learn a lot from the attorneys who guide us through our pro bono casework.”

Ghiglia advises today’s Cal Western students to get exposed to as many “hands-on” opportunities as possible and then to follow the areas they are passionate about. She also encourages students to take as many internships as they can and to start to develop professional connections now.

“Don't be afraid to work hard now,” she advises. “You are building the framework for your future.”