College isn’t cheap, and students can pay up to $17,000 for a four-year university. If that’s mind-boggling, imagine the price of law school as high as $42,000, including local universities such as Northwestern University.

(Photo Courtesy of Monica Torres-Linares)

(Photo Courtesy of Monica Torres-Linares)

The average wage of a Chicago lawyer is over $65 per hour and almost $137,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so those law school loans could be paid back quicker. However, lawyers like Monica Torres-Linares encourage attorneys not to forget about completing pro bono work, too.

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“Part of my practice is to give back to the community,” said Torres-Linares. “Every month, I either do some type of pro bono work or community outreach event educating the community on their rights. As attorneys, we’re supposed to be doing pro bono work.”

Torres-Linares holds a bachelor of arts in Sociology with a minor in Spanish and earned her Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She’s now managing counsel at Justicia Attorneys Abogados where she does general practice, including family law, real estate, immigration and criminal law.

Her brother’s brush with the law left a permanent impact on her career goals.

“My brother was incarcerated, and my parents never had any type of dealings with the legal system,” said Torres-Linares. “When they had to retain an attorney to help with my brother’s case it was very frustrating for them. That attorney didn’t speak Spanish and did not take the time to explain to them the process. I saw how frustrated my parents were, and that was one of the reasons that I decided to be a public defender.”

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According to Torres-Linares, bilingual lawyers are in great demand. Although attorneys can communicate with their clients through translators, she feels messages sometimes get “lost.”

The former Cook County public defender is passionate about working with people who may not qualify for legal aid, victims of domestic violence and curtailing criminal violence.

“By the time people come into the criminal system it’s because they’ve had other issues. When you have housing issues and you’re out in the street, sometimes people turn to desperate measures. Or, if you’re expelled from high school, what alternatives do you have, especially for people of color? Then you start potentially turning to a life of crime. When I was a public interest attorney, I [addressed] some of [those] issues before they [could] get to the criminal justice system.”

For new lawyers who wonder what should they do first, Torres-Linares has a few more tips.

“If you’re going into law, I would advise that you’re passionate about a particular area. If you don’t get into a field where you’re passionate about, then do pro bono work in that area. Meet new colleagues. Expand your network, and [do] good old-fashioned helping people [who] are unable to afford an attorney.”

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Shamontiel L. Vaughn is a professional journalist who has work featured in AXS, Yahoo!, Chicago Defender and Chicago Tribune. She’s been an Examiner since 2009 and currently writes about 10 categories on Examiner.com.