Fernando Rivera, JD ’14, was elected president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania in January 2022.
Born in the Bronx, New York, Rivera was raised in Connecticut and eventually moved to Philadelphia for law school. Since graduating from Kline Law, Rivera has made an impact in his practice area of employment litigation. In 2022, he was named to Best Lawyers’ “Ones to Watch in America” list in the area of Labor and Employer Law. He’s also been identified as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers for both Pennsylvania and New Jersey since 2018.
Rivera answered a few questions about his experience as a law student and his journey to becoming President of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania.
Why did you choose to study at Kline Law?
Before making the decision, I knew I wanted to study in a big city. Then I narrowed it down to Philly, because it was not too close to home, but not too far from home either.
Kline Law was a newer school in 2011, when I applied. I visited for an in-person interview. I met with an administrator and with Professor Brett Asbury, and I walked out with an offer.
Did the youth of the law school factor into your decision?
It was a young school, but Drexel wasn’t; so the school was not starting completely from scratch, which is good. And then, Drexel just really pumped resources into the school and the students, especially.
So, the school was new, but not that new, and it just felt right when I met the people there.
I think the law school just attracts the right people. The friends I made in school—I still keep in touch with them—they are all kind of free spirits, risk takers, really team-oriented. I think that’s the kind of the formula for successfully building a school, especially at that point, when it was early on.
How did you get involved in the Hispanic Bar Association of PA (HBAPA)?
I became a member as a law student. I got involved in the school’s Latin American Law Student Association (LALSA) during my first year in law school. I was the President during my 2L year.
The HBA offers free membership for law students, and they encourage law students to apply for its annual law student scholarship event and gala in the fall.
Then my 2L year, we hosted a LALSA alumni event. We reached out to some folks who had graduated and asked them to come back to the law school. We fed them, and we just hung out for a little bit and networked.
And then the following year, Priscilla Jimenez, JD ’11, who practices law at Kline & Specter and who had attended the event, became the President for HBA.
She reached out to me to make sure I was on the HBA Board. And then I started working through the ranks, becoming Secretary, Treasurer, Vice President, President-Elect, and then President. So, I’ve kind of earned my stripes. I’ve been a member for a long time.
What do you do in your role as president?
The organization primarily works with Hispanic students and lawyers in the area. This year, I want to increase membership, which is free to students. So, I want to make sure that we have a really good outreach to law schools and then do some recruiting for our law student scholarship event.
In 2018, I was President of the Hispanic Bar of Association of Pennsylvania Legal Education Fund (HBAPA LEF), a separate non-profit organization which manages the HBAPA’s endowment fund. They are the ones who host the big gala and they’re the ones who put on the scholarship event and give out the law student awards. The year that I ran it, we raised $90,000, and we gave out 11 scholarships totaling $33,000.
I had ties to that. So, what I really want to do is make sure that we’re getting the word out to students getting to apply for free money, and it ends up in a lot of cases being a pipeline back into the HBAPA. We have two Board members now who are both past recipients. The year that I ran it, we gave our honoree award to a past recipient who’s gone on to do great things.
So, one of the big things that I want to do as President of the HBAPA is reach out to students, make sure they're involved, make sure that they can take advantage of all the benefits that we offer and all the mentoring, especially now. I think as we’re coming back from COVID, there’s a yearning to see people in person and start building those organic relationships. Some of the law students now probably missed out on what it means to network.
We’re also going to do workshops this year that are geared toward young lawyers and law students that are on topics like Depositions 101 and Federal Court Practice 101.
We’re also going to do a speed networking event in the fall, which is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of tables and just five minutes apiece. And we'll just get to meet a bunch of people.
Also, my focus is to put on cool CLEs and events, while really focusing on the young generation of students and lawyers out there.
What advice would you give a student or alumni interested in becoming involved in the Bar Association?
My advice would be to just become a member and show up.
I think that we push this idea in law school and in our careers about networking, and it kind of becomes a task of how many business cards can I collect by the end of the night. But the best networking is really just organic networking. If you see the same person for a second time, you just start building a rapport. Maybe you go right up to that person the fourth time you see them at an event. So, that’s really what organic networking is. You start concentrating your networking efforts by just showing up and at some point, those relationships become organic. And then, five or six years later, you’re the president of the organization, and people want to talk to you.
So, my advice would be to get involved; keep showing up; volunteer if you have the time; but don’t overcommit; and organically just make friends. Eventually, your friends become partners and judges, and that’s just the easiest way to network.
Please talk about your experience as an attorney at Console Mattiacci Law, LLC (CML).
CML is a plaintiff/employee-side employment litigation practice. That’s all we do. So, we only help individuals; we only help employees. It’s involving matters of—what I consider to be big deals—like discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, all the stuff that falls under the #MeToo umbrella. That’s all we do. The work is stressful at times, because you’re dealing with folks who just lost their jobs and their main source of income. And you’re trying to get them through to their next job, while handling this case and handling the stress of all that. But it’s a very rewarding practice. It’s high stakes all the time. I tell my clients, “I have many cases that I could win or lose, but this is your ‘one of one.’ So, we need to make sure that we’re doing it the right way.”
So, that’s what I do. My work is primarily based in the Federal Court space in Philadelphia and in New Jersey.
Can you describe one moment or experience which has motivated you to do the work that you do?
In law school, I was a founding member of the school’s Labor and Employment Law Student Organization. I also did pro bono at the Philadelphia Legal Assistance. I handled unemployment compensation hearings. In Pennsylvania, you don’t have to be a licensed attorney to represent someone at these hearings. It was before we had any formal clinic and one of my classmates stumbled upon the opportunity. So, I did this work for one semester and not for credit. I handled probably six or seven unemployment compensation hearings; I won all but one. And it was a lot of fun.
That experience got me interested in employment litigation. I did general practice for three and a half years after graduation. And then eventually, through those three years, I decided I wanted to specialize in employment law, and then joined the best employee-side employment law firm I could find.
Is there anything you’d like to add that the previous questions didn’t address?
I’d want to get the word out to students to get involved in the HBAPA and to reach out to me. I’m always a willing alumnus, in terms of mentoring and helping folks. I was lucky in terms of the people I met along the way, so I’m always happy to pay it forward.
This interview was edited for length, clarity, and style.