A businessman threw his lifetime savings into a real estate in south Florida. The business expanded until his partner saw an opportunity to steal startup funds.

With all his savings gone, the man walked into Miami-based Valencia and Torrez Law hoping a lawsuit would recover the loss. Unfortunately, no partnership documents existed. The money was gone.

A pre-law text might end the story here with a pithy analysis: The businessperson made a mistake and couldn’t seek legal recourse. In real life, intern Angelica Ballestas ’21 watched raw emotion surge from clients throughout her experience. Tears flowed as the agent realized his life savings had vanished and his former partner got away with the crime. There was no hope for a happy ending.

“I saw people cry, lie, be angry, get excited,” said the said the Bradley international studies and political science double major. “With law, it’s not just black and white. You have to see people’s humanity. We students forget that when we’re reading case studies for facts.”

Ballestas played an important role in family mediation proceedings as the one who screened potential mediators to ensure clients received fair, often bilingual arbitrators in divorce proceedings.

Most of these concluded quickly; however, one divorce stretched the firm’s expertise into international law. In that situation, a Nicaraguan woman was married to an American citizen, but the couple’s child hadn’t established residency in either country. The family needed a child-sharing arrangement that would pass legal muster across national borders. Ballestas and her colleagues retreated to the office boardroom for several days of research to solve the issues.

“As an undergraduate, it was pressure to research a case like that,” she said. “I wanted to be right for both my reputation and the firm.”

When crimes landed in court, real life was nothing like “Judge Judy” or “Law & Order.” Instead of bitter fights, Ballestas found camaraderie within the justice system in which she forged new friendships and mentors, such as the law firm’s chief partners Camilo Valencia, born to Colombian parents, and Cuba native Jennifer Torres.

Ballestas also discovered a role model in former Miami-Dade circuit judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan, who presided over several cases. The judge in August became the first woman named U.S. attorney in South Florida. Fajardo’s accomplishment marked a professional dream for Ballestas, who came from Colombia as a child and became interested in justice issues in her youth.

“It was cool seeing a young woman in a powerful position command respect, yet be kind,” Ballestas said. “I felt a little intimidated by her at first, but I appreciated how she made people feel at ease in her courtroom.”