As Mirtha Montoya begins her third year of law school, her future career path has come into focus. In part, it’s because of her summer externship with Strong & Starlike, a consulting and educational services firm that works with the government and nonprofits to aid in the creation of programs and policies that benefit minority communities in Minnesota.
“I would like to help small businesses thrive and increase the financial and economic capacity of minority communities,” she said. “Public policy and legal matters constantly overlap, especially these days, and there is a need for professionals, like lawyers, to lead them.”
Montoya was matched at Strong & Starlike as part of St. Thomas Law’s Fredrikson & Byron Public Interest Externship Program, which offers law students the opportunity to explore legal careers and provides them with relevant professional experience.
“Some of the projects I’m part of are related to a diversity contractor program for a government entity,” she said. “Another project is related to the economic development of the cultural districts and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) communities in the Twin Cities, particularly the communities affected by the civil unrest and pandemic the last few years.”
Montoya says working directly with clients and community business owners has been one of the best parts of her externship. She credits her St. Thomas Law classes with helping her understand the importance of good communication and being client-centered in her practice.
“The work at Strong & Starlike is based on constant communication with the clients and, in some projects, with the community they want to benefit,” she said. “Having a clear understanding of the client’s needs and goals is essential. This is my favorite part because I’m being exposed to clients in an untraditional way for the role of a lawyer. Our holistic legal training prepares us to interact in various professional environments.”
The externship has also brought relevance and a practical application for what Montoya has studied in her law classes.
“One of the projects I’m working on has the potential to raise equal protection issues, which we learned about in Professor Berg’s class,” she said. “In the meetings with the team and client we talked about this risk, and I was able to provide my point of view based on the case law study in my constitutional law class.”
While Montoya is learning a lot during her externship, she is also sharing her skills and knowledge with the staff at Strong & Starlike. Montoya was asked by the company’s CEO Tisidra Jones ’12 J.D., a St. Thomas Law alumna, to continue her research on immigrant business owners and develop a presentation for the firm’s staff. She started the project in law school to meet her upper-level writing requirement.
“When I started my J.D. journey at St. Thomas, I sought a connection between the legal profession and the success of small businesses and minority communities,” Montoya said. “The work at Strong & Starlike is related to those topics, so I find them fascinating and nourishing for my professional path.”