Jessica Estorga decided to become a sole practitioner almost overnight. “The job I thought I was going to start out at didn’t work out and wasn’t shaping up to be the job that I wanted it to be,” she explains matter-of-factly. A 2012 graduate of the St. Mary’s University School of Law, a small Catholic institution in San Antonio, Texas, Estorga took stock of her options: finding another potentially unsatisfying job or practicing exactly what she wanted to practice.
When push came to shove, the Austin native knew what she’d rather do. She has been on the latter path since June, focusing on criminal law and family law. “My hope is to eventually get into just a criminal practice,” she says. “I do enjoy family law, as well. It’s just—sometimes it’s a little bit hard switching back and forth between one practice of law and another.”
Many lawyers would argue that Estorga chose the tougher path. “To go it on your own, you definitely have to be your biggest cheerleader and motivator,” Estorga says. “I’ve definitely had to reach deep down and encourage myself a little bit more because it is scary, and I’ll admit that.” Not that the former mock trial competitor shies away from a challenge. “It’s also kind of fun tackling something like this,” she adds.
Estorga talks about her future like someone who knows how to land on her feet. “I’m young, and I don’t have a family, and I don’t have kids, and so I figured right now is the best time,” she says. “I always figure that if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay—I can always try to go find a job after that.” Though her alma mater is a fourth tier school, its graduates boast solid employment odds. According to U.S. News data, 83.1% of St. Mary’s 2011 graduating class was employed within nine months of graduation—a percentage comparable to Michigan Law’s 85.8%. “I think a legal education is definitely very valuable if you make it that way,” Estorga maintains. She’s certainly put in the work to ensure the value of her own.
I’m one of those people who has always wanted to be an attorney. When I was really young, I was fortunate enough to live next door to a prosecutor. She was very patient with me and answered all my questions about what lawyers are and what they do. Having her as a neighbor helped shape the path I’m on now.
I graduated from Trinity University in 2007. Trinity is also in San Antonio, and during college, I desperately wanted to leave and try something else. As somebody who came from Austin, I already had a slight bias: “Oh, Austin’s this cool city, and San Antonio’s not.” Plus, people joke about being in the Trinity bubble; you’re so immersed in the college experience that you don’t take time to get to know the city. It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I started to appreciate it. Ultimately, I guess I was meant to be here, because I think I’ve lived in San Antonio for about 10 or 11 years. I love it now.
Before going to law school, I did AmeriCorps VISTA for a year to give myself a little break. I implemented service learning programs for UT Austin and Austin Community College students, and I worked with the Manor Education Foundation. I liked having that foundational work experience instead of continuing straight through the educational landscape.
To be very honest, I didn’t really intend on going to St. Mary’s. It just kind of happened. Doing AmeriCorps allowed me to apply to law schools for free, and I ended up applying to a lot of smaller Catholic schools. I found that they emphasized service, and my AmeriCorps experience looked good. When I visited St. Mary’s, I wasn’t as focused on what they had to offer as I should have been. Still, when the time to decide came around, I realized that I wanted to practice law in Texas, so it seemed best to stay. I didn’t want to leave the state, come back and have to learn new law for the bar exam.