Giving Back by Paying It Forward
Juan Enjamio helps fund a scholarship program for first-generation law students
Published in 2016 Florida Super Lawyers magazine
on June 9, 2016
Updated on June 21, 2016
It was 1970. Fidel Castro was more than a decade into his tenure, Cold War tensions between the U.S. and Cuba were high, and the new political landscape was prompting hundreds of thousands of Cubans to flee their homeland. One of those was Juan Enjamio, who was 10 years old and spoke no English.
“We left as part of what were called the ‘freedom flights,’ where you were allowed to leave after applying and being sponsored by someone in the U.S.,” says Enjamio, an employment defense attorney and managing partner at Hunton & Williams’ Miami office. “It was my first time in a plane. I was excited, but at the same time sad because I was leaving behind all of my friends.”
His dad had owned a cafeteria in Cuba, but it was confiscated by the Castro government. “My parents didn’t want us growing up in a communist system. They wanted to make a life in the United States,” Enjamio says. “Neither of my parents went to college, neither graduated from high school, but they had a sense that that’s how you get ahead in life.”
Now Enjamio is dedicated to helping other first-generation college students get their start. “A lot of times, talented young people don’t go to law school for two reasons: One is financial, two is that they didn’t grow up in families that have lawyers, so they don’t know a lot about the profession,” he says.
Having experienced both challenges himself, Enjamio signed his firm up right from the start with the First Generation Scholarship Program, started in 2013 by Dean Alex Acosta at Florida International University College of Law. The scholarship provides financial aid to the school’s first-generation pupils—regardless of race or social background—who compose nearly half the law school’s student body.
“As part of the legal community, we think diversity in the profession is very important, and to give opportunities to minorities to go to law school,” says Enjamio, who helped open his firm’s Miami office in 1999. Enjamio is also involved in mentoring minority law students. “It’s important to reach out to that group of individuals and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to help you,’ not only financially but also with mentoring. … When you have people with different viewpoints and experiences, you enrich the whole.”
Enjamio himself relied on scholarships to get through law school. Now he guides his firm in returning the favor by contributing significantly to the scholarship program every year. Enjamio also contributes personally to a similar undergraduate program at University of Florida, where he serves on the alumni association. And at the University of Miami School of Law, his other alma mater, he serves in the Center for Ethics and Public Policy.
“It’s important that there are financial resources available to students at any school,” he says, “and it’s important that the legal profession continues to try to be diverse. And the only way to do that is continuing to attract good, quality, diverse student bodies.”
At FIU, firms typically contribute enough to cover half or full tuition for one student, and the school matches it. Since the public law school opened in 2002, its rankings for clerkships and job success have “accelerated at lightning speed for a school this recent,” says Acosta, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida and a first-generation lawyer himself.
In-state tuition for FIU law students is $21,400 per year for the day program and $14,500 for the part-time program at night. Acosta estimates the program has raised $300,000 so far, and annual pledges going forward are already at nearly $150,000. The number of firms donating to the FIU scholarship has jumped from two, at the beginning, to about 20.
“Often, to gain success when you start something, you need to have one or two people come to the table early,” Acosta says. “The big movers behind this were Juan [Enjamio] and Cesar Alvarez [from Greenberg Traurig], and with their commitment and support, I was then able to go to colleagues at other firms.”