Post Date: March 18, 2005
The following story is from the April 2005 issue of Harvard Law Today.
By Mary Bridges
It wasn't a makeover--it was a make-better.
A team of decorators and their entourage of producers, assistants and camera crew members recently descended on the law office of Luz Herrera '99 for four days, while another set of designers whisked her away to a posh Los Angeles hotel for shopping, massages and manicures. Why was this young attorney getting the royal treatment?
"At the time, I was looking to move into new office space," Herrera said.
"So my event was an office-warming."
Herrera was selected for the "make-better" treatment because a TV producer read about her unusual career choice in Stanford University's alumni magazine. In 2002, after quitting her lucrative job at a large firm in San Francisco, Herrera opened her own law practice in a low-income neighborhood in Compton. While the transition gratified Herrera, the popularity of her practice left her strapped for office space. She was juggling nearly 350 clients in an office the size of "two rooms in the Gropius complex." It was time for an upgrade.
She found a new office that provided more space but had some aesthetic drawbacks. "It was just like a white box," she said. "It didn't have any carpeting--it didn't have anything." The design crew changed all that. When Herrera returned from her four-day retreat, she found her office completely transformed. There was new furniture, and a top-to-bottom paint job--in peach.
"They used different tones of orange," she said, elated with the changes. "It makes it feel a lot warmer and more comfortable."
The changes were so dramatic that some clients didn't even recognize the office.
Herrera acknowledged that her law school background probably helped her win the office transformation.
"Had I not gone to Harvard, my story would not have been as compelling," she said. "It wouldn't be like, 'Harvard-educated attorney works in the hood.'"
Nick Brown '02 also said that Harvard played a big part in his experience on the CBS show "Survivor." "I don't think I would have stood out so much in the application pool without HLS on the resume," he wrote in an e-mail. "That always gets people's attention."
And Jennifer Massey '99, Herrera's classmate and a recent finalist on "The Apprentice" with Donald Trump, said that one part of law school in particular prepared her for reality TV: exams. "A lot of stress, sometimes unrealistic deadlines, very little sleep and irregular eating," Massey remembered.
But for Herrera, any short-term stress had big returns in the end.
"After so much work and putting so much energy into my practice and sometimes not being financially stable enough, it was such a gift to have something like this happen in my life," she said.
Herrera not only got a better office but was able to return something to her clients and her community. "Sometimes people are dealing with really rough situations," she explained. And a calming office helps makes the experience less unpleasant. "If you've got to go see your lawyer, you want to at least have something pretty to look at!"