Introducing Esteban Rivera 2020-2021 HCBA President

From growing up in Ecuador to practicing law in Minneapolis, Esteban Rivera has20-08_EstebanNursery always strived to pay it forward.

This year, Rivera is paying it forward by serving as the 102nd president of the Hennepin County Bar Association. “I’m grateful for the opportunities this country and the Minneapolis legal community offer,” said Rivera, an immigration attorney. “I’m a testament to what’s possible.”

Rivera didn’t always want to be a lawyer. “As a kid, I was curious,” Rivera recalled. “I watched the news and read the newspaper. At family gatherings, the other kids sat at the kids’ table, but I sat with the adults so I could listen to the talk of politics and current events.” He envisioned a career in the Foreign Service and since law is one of the preferred degrees for that work, he enrolled in law school at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. In Ecuador, law school is a five-year program in place of college.

“I liked that the law offered different paths—you can go into private practice, be an in-houseattorney at a company, work for the government, or be a professor, for example,” he said. After graduation, Rivera practiced intellectual property and corporate law with two Ecuadorian law firms. He is still licensed to practice in Ecuador and travels there a few times each year.

In 2007, family and law school led Rivera to the United States, where he received his JD from Hamline University School of Law in 2010. It was during law school that Rivera first became involved with the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association (MHBA) as a student representative. When he became an attorney, he was chosen to represent the MHBA at the HCBA. He continued his active involvement with both associations over the years.

As the new HCBA president, Rivera had to change the direction he had planned for his term. “Some of my initial goals have been sidelined due to issues that are more urgent: the killing of George Floyd and COVID-19,” he said.

He sees the legal community as a voice for racial equity and justice. “The HCBA is in a unique position to educate the public and work on police reform with the state bar association, the affinity bars, the mayor, law enforcement, and the courts,” he noted. Rivera will also collaborate with Twin Cities Diversity in Practice.

Rivera’s other primary focus as president will be helping members adapt to the pandemic and its effect on work and well-being. “With the pandemic comes a new way to practice law,” he said. “There is reduced in-person contact, fewer lunch meetings, fewer happy hours. Social interaction is necessary for wellness and I’d like to see the HCBA educate members and provide ways for people to connect.”

Growing up internationally, Rivera has a unique perspective on work/life balance. “Other cultures tend to view Americans as living to work, instead of working to live,” he said. “The societal pressure to be constantly productive can actually be counterproductive. There is more to life than law.”

Rivera learned about paying it forward from a young age. His parents, both doctors, taught their children that they have a role in making society better. “They said, ‘We gave you the education and opportunity, but it’s on you to take that opportunity and make your life one of purpose.’”

When he’s not working in the office, volunteering with Volunteer Lawyers Network, coaching a Mitchell Hamline moot court competition team, or mentoring law students, Rivera likes to spend time with friends, whether it’s boating on the lake or having a night out at a comedy club.

“Minneapolis is a great place to live, but it can be hard to develop friendships, because many people are from here and hang out with their high school classmates,” he observed. “But if you’re friendly and persistent, you’ll make amazing friendships.”

To relax, Rivera exercises, does yoga, or listens to a wide variety of music (his favorite band is U2). In fact, if he weren’t a lawyer, he might be a DJ. He also likes to travel. “My goal is to visit 100 countries and the 50 states in my lifetime.” His tally so far is 53 countries and 29 states. His favorite country to visit is Italy, where he studied abroad. In addition to his native Spanish, Rivera is fluent in English and Italian.

Although Rivera doesn’t have much time to read for pleasure—“I read a lot for work, since immigration law is constantly changing”—he enjoys learning about finance and entrepreneurship and is currently reading Becoming Steve Jobs. As an owner of a law firm and a real estate business, Rivera himself is an entrepreneur.

Rivera founded Rivera Law Firm LLC in 2013. He practices immigration law including employment, investment, and family-based immigration cases as well as removal defense and international law with a focus in South America. He enjoys the variety his career provides. “Every day is different,” he said. “I could be at the office, in court, or traveling — it’s never boring and each case requires different skills.”

The most rewarding part of his practice? “Helping people,” he said. “I can change a person’s life with my work— I can help someone stay in this country legally or help a foreign entrepreneur generate jobs for U.S. employees. What I do has a real impact.”

And that is paying it forward.
By Lisa Buck

Ms. Buck practiced corporate law in Minneapolis and was an adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law. She contributes to the Hennepin Lawyer and serves on the board of the Hennepin County Law Library. She is also a coach of a local high school speech team.
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