Feature Stories UMass Law: Natalia Vargas, JD '24: UMass Law Commencement Speaker reaches lifelong dream

Student Commencement Speaker
Feature Stories UMass Law: Natalia Vargas, JD '24: UMass Law Commencement Speaker reaches lifelong dream
Natalia Vargas, JD '24: UMass Law Commencement Speaker reaches lifelong dream

Builds a new community more than 1,000 miles from home

From her extensive law school involvement to her work in the Immigration Law Clinic and at a private law firm, Natalia Vargas, JD '24 has enjoyed a full UMass Law experience. Her hard work and dedication to her fellow law students has been rewarded; she was chosen to address her classmates at the upcoming Commencement Ceremony and was recently honored as a co-recipient of the law school's Unsung Hero Award. 

In a recent interview, Vargas recalled when she first saw UMass Law. "It was during the spring of 2021 when students were fully remote during the pandemic. I could only see UMass Law from the parking lot," she laughed.

The Naples, Florida, native arrived on campus in August 2021 as in-person classes resumed. After focusing on her 1L studies, during the following two years, Vargas accelerated her student involvement and became an admissions ambassador, executive vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for the Student Bar Association, a member of the UMass Law DEI Committee, the First Generation Law Students Association, the Legal Association of Women, and the Latina American Law Students Association.  

Vargas also worked at a New Bedford law firm. Following graduation, she plans to travel and, after passing the bar, work at an all-female law firm in workmen's compensation and personal injury law. 

As she prepares for her special role in UMass Law's 2024 Commencement Ceremony, Vargas reflected on the opportunities and the special community she found more than 1,300 miles from home.

UMass Law experience

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

"I have wanted to be a lawyer my entire life. My family has always valued education and knowledge. Something about the law specifically, the system of rules made up of elements and requirements for application, computes in my brain. I found something I was drawn to and just went for it."

Why did you choose to attend UMass Law?

"UMass Law offered me the most competitive financial aid package. Financials, combined with the experiential learning opportunities available to students, and the location of the school made it the best choice for me."

You are involved in many student organizations; how do you manage all of them with your studies?

"I waited until I finished my first year of law school to join any student organizations or work. This helped me develop consistent study habits and focus on the course load full-time while still having time for things that bring me joy like walking my dog, exploring New England, and spending quality time with my friends.  
 
"I have always prioritized learning and maintaining good time management skills. When you love everything you do, things are just more manageable. But unless you are organized and intentional with your efforts, you will never have enough time."

How has the community at UMass Law enhanced your law school experience? 

"Above all, I am extremely grateful for the people I have met and the friends I made through these experiences. UMass Law has such a special student body of people who truly want to serve communities, feel devoted to the legal profession, come from different backgrounds, and maintain such fascinating interests and hobbies outside of their legal careers.  

"The fall of 2021 was my first time leaving home and it was 1,300+ miles away. If it was not for the people I met, this experience would have been much more difficult.  

"I had a wonderful roommate and I attribute a lot of my success to her support. She was a 2L and really helped me adjust. I admire Dean Julie Cahill; she is the reason why I got a great job at a law firm. [Director of Admissions] Melissa Costa was a champion for me and became a very good friend. Professor Justine Dunlap is an advocate for marginalized communities, and I look up to her a lot."

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Experiential learning shaped a future lawyer 

What did you do at your internship? 

"During most of law school, I worked at a private firm in New Bedford under a solo practitioner. I started working on housing-related cases. I learned so much about the law, working with clients, running your own practice, and felt I was making meaningful contributions to facilitating the lives of tenants impacted by evictions. My boss offered me the opportunity to stay on and I was happy to do so. He always believed in me. He took the time to teach me how to draft motions, conduct legal research, communicate effectively with clients, and manage a caseload."

What did you do in the Immigration Law Clinic? 

"I was assigned to one asylum case and one parole in place case for a family of four. My colleagues and I worked closely to move their cases through the legal system and advocate on their behalf. We volunteered in the community when opportunities arose. Sometimes we helped process immigration documents for those being housed by the Commonwealth's shelter-in-place laws. We also helped individuals who were being offered the opportunity to apply for a work permit. I learned a lot about immigration law, client/lawyer relationships, and working with other lawyers on cases." 

Have these experiential learning experiences shaped you as a future lawyer? 

"This experience may have shaped me even more than the lectures and courses did. I got a lot of hands-on experience right away. It gave me much-needed context for the people who work in the legal field, the reasons why they chose to do the work, and gave me a sense of community. I have learned that the best lawyers are not the ones that know the most case law or statutes. The best lawyers are the ones that listen with the intention of understanding, not just to be quick with a solution."

With her dog Benny
Natalia Vargas and her dog, Benny, in New Bedford, MA.

Reflections and future plans 

How did it feel to be selected as the Commencement speaker? 

“I was surprised but also very excited. I feel very proud of my law school, my classmates, and the work that we all do. I'm going to reflect on some of the things we've accomplished and the importance of being your own advocate."

What has been most rewarding? 

"Working in Admissions has likely been the most rewarding. There is something so immensely useful about current law school students providing guided tours to prospective students. Seeing those students around school after they've decided to enroll and keeping up with them during their journey is priceless to me."

Do you have any advice for future law students?  

"Never rob yourself of an opportunity to do something simply because you do not believe it will be given to you or because you think that you may not have earned it. Always apply, always try out, always give yourself the chance to do whatever you have a desire to do. This is the only way that those opportunities can happen for you. You are your own biggest and best advocate."

Do you feel UMass Law has prepared you well for your future legal career? 

"Absolutely. I have such appreciation for UMass Law because, while it gave me a great legal education in the classroom, it also made me appreciate the people who make up the legal community as well. If our law school's student body is representative of what the legal community is like outside the school, I believe that clients are in really good hands."


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