A Lawyer Like You

Vanessa López Aguilera isn’t afraid to take family law cases to court

Published in 2016 Indiana Super Lawyers — March 2016

Vanessa López Aguilera began showing interest in the law around the time most teenagers start getting behind the wheel. But she’d never heard of a lawyer who shared her background.

“I honestly felt like this profession was just one that white males entered, so I didn’t pursue it, and didn’t actively think that I could be a lawyer,” she says. “No one like me, that I could tell—as far as female and Hispanic—was a lawyer.”

It didn’t stop her forever. After graduating from Indiana University with degrees in sociology and Spanish, López Aguilera went to law school at the urging of her mother.

“It’s solving problems, helping folks go through really hard times,” says López Aguilera of choosing family law upon graduation in 2003. “I wanted to see if I could help people go through this hard process [of divorce] with stability and respect, while putting children as their number one priority.”

Five years later, she opened her own solo practice in Indianapolis. “I always wanted to be my own boss,” she says. “I want to be able to take the cases that I want to take,” which for López Aguilera means being willing to try cases instead of settling them—“especially when you’ve got a good parent.”

It’s a lesson she learned in one of her first trials, when López Aguilera represented a 23-year-old African-American father who was seeking primary custody of his child. During the trial, she says, “I had an attorney—a male who had been practicing for over 30 years—tell me I didn’t know what I was doing, that I would never win and that I should just enter an agreement.”

Then she won.

“I knew then not to pay attention—let the judge tell you [if you’ve lost],” she says.

Thanks in part to that early victory, López Aguilera has always had an interest in fathers’ rights work. She says the gender bias toward men has decreased over the past decade, coinciding with an increased interest by fathers in gaining custody. “I think we have a lot more dads coming forward who want to be at least 50/50—if not more,” she says. “Dads are understanding more, people are becoming more educated. I think lawyers are willing to go that extra mile and try to get the outcome that they want.”

Over the years, López Aguilera has had to learn how to leave the stress of family law in the courtroom. “I am sensitive and respectful of what clients are going through,” she says, “but I’m much more mature. It doesn’t help anyone to take it home—especially when you have a 4-year-old who has no interest in what you did today, and wants all your attention.”

López Aguilera has strong legal ties with the LGBT community. “I participate in Pride every year, and I’ve made it known in my marketing that we’re friendly—that we’re an ally,” she says.

In the wake of legalized same-sex marriage, she has updated advice for those clients. “I think one thing I’ve seen, perhaps, is folks assuming that they don’t have to protect themselves as much,” she says. “We’re still advising folks to do second-parent adoptions until we have something definite, either through case law or through statute.”

Indiana’s Latino population makes up 38 percent of López Aguilera’s client base. As a native Spanish speaker, she can raise the comfort level for those clients: “For many years in our community, they had English-speaking attorneys who had bilingual staffs,” she says. “So much does get lost in translation, so it’s important that their attorney speaks their native tongue.

“Which is as it should be, like anybody else that hires a lawyer.”

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