If you’re among those who have a low opinion of lawyers, a new podcast might change your mind.

Class Action,” a new 12-episode podcast debuting Tuesday, tracks law students at four schools around the U.S. — including the St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio — through mock trial competitions that help train them for real-world courtroom practice. The other teams featured are from Brooklyn Law School in New York, the University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law and Dillard University in New Orleans.

Director and co-producer Kevin Huffman said that a year of closely following the students through the ups and downs of preparing to be lawyers has given him “faith in the future, that there are young people out there who work really hard, who are not only not doing it for the money, but they really, legitimately want to help people.”

Among those students is Andy Vizcarra, a first-generation American born in Chicago who spent several years in Odessa before her family relocated to San Antonio to follow her mother Rosa’s career as a physician.

The 24-year-old Vizcarra said she’s wanted to be a lawyer since she was 9. She said her father Elizandro’s sense that the law can protect citizens against injustice was a strong motivation, and the 2009 nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U. S. Supreme Court, demonstrating that a young Latina like herself can be represented in the nation’s highest court, may have also played a role.

The St. Mary’s mock trial team included Vizcarra, Jasmin Olguin, Mariela Encinas and Cole Davila, which team coach AJ Bellido de Luna said brings diversity to the nationwide mock trial competition circuit and helps ensure a better legal future for Latinos in the U.S.

Andy Vizcarra, a gradute of St. Mary's law school, was inspired to become a lawyer after the 2009 nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U. S. Supreme Court.
Andy Vizcarra, a graduate of St. Mary’s Law School, was inspired to become a lawyer after the 2009 nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Courtesy / Andy Vizcarra

Vizcarra agrees. “Representation matters,” she said emphatically. She said she’s grateful to have St. Mary’s chosen for the podcast, in part because of what Bellido de Luna describes as its 70% to 80% Latino student population, but also because nationally, the number of Latino lawyers is “shockingly low.”

At the culmination of Episode 7, titled “Don’t Mess With Texas,” Vizcarra gets specific, saying, “1.3% of lawyers in the United States are Latino women. One. Point. Three. It’s a very small percentage, very small.”

During the episode, she and her teammates learn that lack of representation can have harmful effects.

The team is deep into the “Best in Texas” mock trial competition. As Olguin and Encinas are arguing their case over a videoconferencing platform, the court bailiff confuses the two women for each other and repeatedly interrupts for clarification. Huffman said the bailiff claimed to seek clarification due to competition rules that prohibited one person from playing two roles, but Bellido de Luna and the St. Mary’s students suggested the bailiff’s confusion was rooted in bias.

Though Bellido de Luna said his team was clearly better than their competitors that day, it was not advanced through to the quarterfinal round.

In the episode, podcast host Katie Phang flatly describes the incident as “racism” at worst, or at least implicit bias against the two women.

Olguin reacted as a lawyer cognizant of her role in advocating for others.

“It just makes me scared that that is ever going to affect me in the future when I’m representing a client,” she said. “I don’t want to go up there and … people aren’t listening to what I’m saying. What if we have the better case, and they’re instead going to look at me different because the way I look? Like maybe they’re going to look at me as less and they’re going to see … this … other attorney as superior because [of the] color of their skin. And that is what scares me.”

Vizcarra said she firmly believes the team would have won the entire competition if that incident hadn’t occurred.

Even after being knocked down, both the episode and the series recover to chart new triumphs. Episode 7 closes with Vizcarra and her parents raucously celebrating El Grito, Mexican Independence Day, at their family’s Frida Mexican Restaurant and Bar in Stone Oak, where she has worked to support herself through law school.

In a later episode, the St. Mary’s team achieves an important win in the National Trial Competition, and in the series’ penultimate episode, Vizcarra hits a professional high arguing an actual case before an actual judge and jury in a Bexar County court.

Vizcarra promises that the “plot thickens” in all kinds of ways as it tracks her experience in court, but that she came away from that moment, and the team-building and leadership demands of the mock trial competition, more determined than ever to bring her skills to clients who need them.

And, she said, she will do that right here in Bexar County. After she completes her 10-week bar exam, she said, “I’m going to be a litigator. I’m hoping to start off at the District Attorney’s Office and be a prosecutor. … And then we’ll see where we go from there.”

Huffman co-produced Class Action with colleague Lisa Gray for the Sound Argument production company and iHeart Media, and the 12-episode series is available through major podcast platforms and the iHeart Media website.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...