WALLA WALLA — In a Walla Walla County courtroom last month, Sandy Flores saw her dreams become reality.
Surrounded by family and friends, Flores was sworn into the Washington State Bar Association, realizing her dream of becoming an attorney, and setting a precedent both in her family and the community where she was born and raised.
Flores is the first lawyer in her family, and the first on her father’s side to attend and graduate from college. A graduate of Walla Walla High School and Whitman College, Flores is also the first Latina to be sworn into the bar locally.
“As far as I know she is indeed the first Hispanic to be sworn into the bar in Walla Walla County,” said Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann, who conducted the swearing in on Nov. 9. Lohrmann attested to the significance of the occasion.
“In my remarks, I indicated that I felt honored to swear her in,” Lohrmann said in an email. Lohrmann found inspiration in the moment, both for Flores and her family, and for the greater community.
“She is a product of our community and as such we can all be proud of her accomplishment,” he said.
Flores, 26, was still in high school when she set her mind to go to Whitman College, then go to law school and become a lawyer.
She checked the first goal off her list in 2008, when she earned degrees in mathematics and economics from Whitman.
She went on to earn her law degree from the University of Idaho in 2011, and was among 575 individuals who took and passed the state bar this summer.
“I feel on top of the world some times,” Flores said in an email. “I know I am not in the most ideal position. I don’t have a job. I have a lot of student loans to worry about. But I made it; it’s a relief to finally achieve what I was working on. I am now a lawyer. And to boot, I am the first lawyer in my family and the first Latina lawyer sworn in Walla Walla.”
Flores’ dreams don’t stop there. Her next goal, of opening a law practice locally, will help complete her desire of giving back to her community, and that helped her on her path to success.
Flores grew up in the Walla Walla Farm Labor Homes. While she was in high school, her father left years of working farms to become a truck driver, and the family moved out of the homes.
Flores spoke warmly about her parents, particularly her father, Jose Flores, who she says always encouraged her and inspired her to dream big.
Both her father and mother, Sandy S. Flores, stressed the value of an education and offered support and encouragement growing up.
Flores said her father’s years working on farms, and the struggles he shared at home about work, began shaping her career aspirations. The demands her father faced, at times being asked to do tasks unfairly, got her thinking at an early age about the need for justice in labor practices.
“That was definitely one reason I went to law school,” she said about her father’s experiences.
There was another time, while discussing the construction of a fence along the Mexico-U.S. border almost 10 years ago, that Jose Flores turned to his daughter.
“He said, ‘you know m’hija, you should be an abogada,’” she recalled. “That planted the seed.”
In high school, Sandy Flores took part in the federal TRIO program, which helps guide low-income and underserved students toward college. Former TRIO Director Andrés Dankel-Ibañez remembers Flores as a bright, hard-working and dedicated student.
“What made the biggest impression on me was that as a high school student she shared her goal with me to not only attend Whitman, but to go on to law school and one day become an attorney,” he said.
Dankel-Ibañez was among those present Nov. 9 to see Flores take her oath.
Flores said that as a mentor, Dankel-Ibañez helped her learn the value of giving back and public service.
“I’ve always kept in mind my community,” Flores said. “People like Andrés instilled that sentiment of giving back to your community.”
While at Wa-Hi, Flores was a member and leader of the Latino Club, which puts a strong focus on community service. At Whitman, she participated in the summer middle-school outreach WISE Program. She served as a mentor in high school and college.
By the time she reached the University of Idaho, Flores was refining her focus. She was chosen as one of eight Public Interest Law Fellows in the Migrant Unity of Idaho Legal Aid. The fellowship allowed Flores to pursue public interest legal work over a summer.
Flores worked as a paralegal near Portland after law school, but left her job to focus on passing the rigorous bar exam, which is taken over three days.
Although she currently lives in Portland, Flores has her mind set to move back to Walla Walla, where her family still lives, and where she can set up a practice. Before tackling that goal, she is looking for work to get more legal experience.
“I’m really excited,” Flores said. “I’m just really excited for the opportunities and the different directions I can go.”