The well-traveled education of Alejandro Moreno
Published in 2021 San Diego Super Lawyers Magazine on March 23, 2021
Not many have had the cross-cultural upbringing Alejandro Moreno did. His was literal.
Born in San Diego, he grew up in Playas de Tijuana. Every weekday while his father practiced business law in TJ, his mother commuted across the border to teach elementary school in the U.S. “We experienced the best of both cultures,” Moreno says. “I spoke Spanish to Dad and English to Mom. … My brother and I are comfortable in both cultures. We can speak to people from all different backgrounds and make them feel comfortable.”
At Sheppard Mullin, that skill has proven useful in solving legal disputes for Latin American clients, as well as in his pro bono immigration work. “I have this niche as a litigator who works in Spanish, and who can work with Latin American or Spanish clients that want a U.S. attorney that has a cultural and linguistic affinity with them,” he says.
His cultural education didn’t stop there, either. As an undergrad at UC Santa Barbara, Moreno spent a year abroad in Barcelona, where his roommates were German, Hungarian and Israeli. After a gap year at home waiting tables, he did so well on the LSATs that he got into Harvard Law School—which was an education in itself.
“I thought I was really smart,” he says. “I’d say, ‘Look, if I’m putting my name on it, it’s going to come back with an A.’ Because I knew I could write essays and craft arguments and was well-read. Going to Harvard was an eye-opener. Everybody there felt more intelligent and more accomplished and came from the most diverse backgrounds.”
He learned from them. Then he studied abroad again in an exchange program that allowed him to earn his LL.M from The University of Cambridge, King’s College, while completing his J.D. from Harvard. “The beauty of studying law at Cambridge was being part of an interdisciplinary group,” he says. “I was with neuroscientists and medievalists and biotechnicians and all sorts of different disciplines. We’d have the most interesting conversations. They would explain an issue from their perspective and then I could add my legal spin to it.”
Assuming he’d be a finance attorney, Moreno began his legal career at Latham & Watkins in 2008. It was short-lived. Two of Latham’s three biggest clients that year were Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. “I worked there for nine months, basically did almost no billable work, and got laid off in March 2009,” he says.
After a stint at Robbins Arroyo (now Robbins LLP), he decided finance was boring. Litigation was storytelling—his wheelhouse—and in 2011 he brought his plaintiff-side litigation experience to corporate defense at Sheppard Mullin. He now specializes in consumer class actions, securities litigation, cross-border litigation, and litigation for high-net-worth individuals and companies with a need for Spanish-speaking counsel.
Moreno says growing up in Mexico gave him a different view of government and politics than that of his American friends. “In Mexico, the most likely explanation is always the most cynical explanation,” he says. “There’s a famous saying that a politician who is poor is a poor politician, and so in Mexico you expect that they're taking advantage.”
It also gave him a better appreciation for the optimism, sense of justice and rule of law in the U.S. In his pro bono work, he helps kids who have been separated from their parents by Trump-era immigration policies.
In one case, Moreno helped the grandmother of a 13-year-old DACA baby with Type 1 diabetes achieve guardianship so that crucial medical decisions could be made until a green card could be secured two years later. Moreno currently represents a boy from Honduras who was separated from his father at the border and sent to live with his aunt in San Diego. The boy wants to stay in the U.S. and practices his English when speaking with Moreno. “Despite growing up in terrible circumstances,” Moreno says, “you can tell he’s bright and will do well if he’s allowed to succeed.”
In addition to his own cases, Moreno sends pro bono opportunities from the Casa Cornelia Law Center to other lawyers. He volunteers with Circulate San Diego, which seeks more bike lanes and mass transit, and serves on the Ambassadors Council of the California Minority Counsel Program.
Moreno, who keeps a framed letter to the editor he got published his first time writing to The Economist on his office wall, feels fortunate to have a job he loves doing that he’s good at.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he says.