Rodrigo Guevara ’09, Class of 2009
Rodrigo Guevara ’09 will receive the 2020 King Hall Rising Star Alumnus Award at the Celebrating King Hall event on March 12. In 2015, Rodrigo founded Abogato, an organization that educated clients about their employment rights. He quickly realized that what his clients really needed were lawyers. A year later, Abogato became Abogato LLP, a law firm that specializes in representing low-wage workers in underserved communities.
As president of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association from 2014 to 2015, Rodrigo organized mayoral and district attorney debates that focused on issues that were important to the Latinx community. The debates attracted large audiences and extensive media coverage. Super Lawyers honored him as a Rising Star in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
What made you so passionate about workers’ rights?
Becoming more involved in advocacy for social justice. Researching studies that showed that a majority of low-wage workers in San Diego were either underpaid or had been discriminated against in some way crystalized the problem and made me want to do something about it. Once I realized that there were very few people that could help those workers, particularly Spanish-speaking workers, I decided to represent them ourselves. To put this into context, about 40% of Californians and only about 4% of the State Bar is Latino. In all of San Diego County, there are only four Spanish-speaking civil rights attorneys. Two of them are me and my law partner. We have a tremendous gap in providing services to the segment of the population that is exploited the most and we are doing what we can to make a difference.
How did King Hall and your early work prepare you to start a law firm?
King Hall helped me discover my interests in advocacy work and social justice. It was an inspiration to help others and serve those in need.
I spent about six years at a law firm representing public agencies and private companies. That prepared me to be a litigator on the other side of the aisle.
But as far as starting a law firm, that was a leap of faith. My law partner Rafael Hurtado and I started with one phone, a pair of computers, and a shared office and just began to take clients that we felt passionate about helping. The California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA) was also incredibly helpful because it is an organization that has a vast network of attorneys and resources that help attorneys that exclusively represent workers.
Have you had any challenges you weren’t expecting?
When we started, we wanted to help as many people as we could. We took on too many cases. And these cases are incredibly time-intensive. They take hundreds of hours. We weren’t working 24-7, but as close to that as possible. We had to scale back and find other people who could help. We have helped and talked to over a thousand people over the last couple of years. We had to balance representing as many people as we could against having some balance ourselves.
Has there been a particular moment that made you feel like all of your work was worth it?
Absolutely. There are many, and it is hard to pick because every time we attain a positive outcome for a client we feel like we are helping tip the scales towards more justice in our community. One of those inspiring moments was helping a low-wage factory worker that we proved was fired for being pregnant, for example. Seeing workers like her have the courage to stand up for themselves when they have faced a serious injustice has been incredibly inspiring. Getting companies to admit they did something they knew was wrong provides some justice for those workers. I am especially proud of representing clients when I know they would not have found another attorney to represent them because of the scarcity of civil rights attorneys in our San Diego community.
How did you decide to become a lawyer, and why did you choose King Hall?
I wanted to help other people. I had my heart set on building the skills I needed to represent people with the most need. One formative experience was interning at a law firm in college. I didn’t know any lawyers. I met one lawyer, Yuri Calderon, through a priest my parents knew. His firm focused on helping public agencies such as school districts. Through that experience I saw what lawyers do and how much of a difference they make in people’s lives.
A King Hall alumna at that law firm, Nitasha Sawhney ’00, talked about what a wonderful school King Hall was. She told me it had a great community. That was how I learned about it and became interested in attending.
The firm offered me a job after law school, and that was where I worked until we started Abogato.
What is your favorite King Hall memory?
How welcoming and helpful the other students were. I joined the La Raza Law Students Association my first year, and the 2Ls and 3Ls set the tone for the rest of my time at King Hall.
Did your involvement in student organizations have an impact on your career?
Absolutely. La Raza provides a community of students who are interested in different sorts of advocacy. We went to conferences. One we went to in Madison, Wisconsin — it was so cold! — was a conference of all the law schools’ Latino student associations. I also have fond memories of a student group we called “Lawlife” and the work that we did together. We continue to be in touch. It does shape you, the friendships you make.
How have you stayed involved with King Hall?
I’ve been involved in the alumni network in San Diego and Los Angeles. I’m continuing to foster friendships. I go to events down here such as the luncheons, and also organized an event with Dean Johnson that featured Professor Cruz Reynoso as the keynote speaker. Over the years, I’ve contributed to the school and to La Raza.
Do you have any advice for current law students?
Follow your heart. Figure out what your values are, and align your work with them. Being more in tune with your values will get you where you want to be in a more enriching career. It seems simple, but I have found it to be complex.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I feel blessed to have gone to King Hall. Dean Kevin Johnson has done a great job of continuing to foster community, with great teachers and students. I admire him and the school he has built.