Hispanic Heritage Month: Honoring the Legal Giants of Philadelphia

In the city known for the quality of its lawyers for over 250 years, and in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the contributions of outstanding Hispanic Philadelphia lawyers, Mari Carmen Aponte, Juan Silva and Diana P. Cortes. Their contributions on both the local and national stages helped break barriers for equality and add to the legal prominence of the city of Philadelphia.

We invite you to learn more about each of these legal giants below.

Mari Carmen Aponte

Mari Carmen Aponte is Acting Assistant Secretary in the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Aponte was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the United States to pursue a better education. She earned a B.A. in political science from Rosemont College and then taught in Camden, New Jersey, where it became apparent that minority students had underrepresented educational needs. Aponte enrolled in Temple University Beasley School of Law and earned her J.D. in 1975. As one of few Puerto Rican women enrolled in an accredited law program in the U.S. at the time, she became the first Latina lawyer in Pennsylvania. Aponte moved to Washington, D.C. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed her as a White House Fellow, making her one of the first Latina White House Fellows. In October 2021, Aponte will be honored by the White House Fellows Foundation and Association with its highest honor, the John Gardner Legacy and Leadership Award. Aponte was elected the first-ever woman president of the Hispanic National Bar Association in 1984 and continued her work with organizations such as the National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS) and the Puerto Rico Legal Defense Fund. In another first, she became the first Puerto Rican woman to hold the title of U.S. ambassador when President Barack Obama appointed her as Ambassador to El Salvador in 2010.  Read more about this legal giant.

Juan Silva

Juan Silva is recognized as one of the first Latinos admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar. He was admitted in 1965. As others joined his ranks, he helped serve as a mentor to rising Latino lawyers. They helped fill a void where others had no outlet for voicing the concerns of the Hispanic community in Pennsylvania. Read more about this legal giant.

Diana P. Cortes

Diana P. Cortes is the first Latina city solicitor in the history of Philadelphia. She was appointed by the Mayor on December 11, 2020. As Philadelphia’s chief legal officer, she oversees the legal representation of all agencies and officials who make up the city government and serves as general counsel to the Mayor and his Administration, City Council, and all City departments, agencies, boards and commissions. Her legal career began as a law clerk for the Hon. Juan R. Sánchez, who himself is the first Latino American male to serve as the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Villanova University School of Law and Cornell University. She is a member of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania as well as the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group. She is also fluent in Spanish. Read more about this legal giant.

Author Michael Coran is a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at Klehr Harrison, which strives to advance diversity, equity and inclusion through education in all forms from educating our own lawyers and clients, hiring and mentoring minority lawyers and providing tools to educate students of all ages.

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