A Colombia Native Is Setting The Bar High

MITCHELL, SD-   Typically when you want to study law, you earn your undergrad degree before law school.  Lorena Tamayo  took an unconventional route.

“It’s different how it works in my country than here in the states. You know, here you have to get an undergrad degree first, you have to go to college,” said Attorney Lorena Tamayo.

She is originally from Colombia.  After she graduated high school, she went straight to law school at the age of 18.   She always looked up to her dad who was also a lawyer.

“I always admire him (you know) and his ethic and just how he works. I was always very intrigued by law,” said Tamayo.

Law programs in Colombia take five years to complete.  At 23, Lorena graduated with her Law Degree and decided to continue her education.  She earned a Masters Degree through a partnership with St. Thomas University in Minneapolis.

Tamayo explains, “I wanted to have a little more experience and I wanted to go somewhere else too. My dad was always very supportive of ‘you should try to go somewhere else’ and (you know) get that experience for a year. Meet different people, learn about another culture.”

Lorena earned her Masters Degree in one year, and started as a Paralegal at Morgan Theeler Law Firm in Mitchell, but she ran into some speed bumps.

There are only three states that allow people with foreign degrees to take the Bar Exam.  South Dakota isn’t one of them, so Lorena had to go to New York.

“At first they need to make sure that you comply with all the requirements in order to sit for the Bar. They do like a prescreening of your background and that alone takes six months,” said Tamayo.

She took the Bar Exam in New York last July.  Lorena passed, but her journey wasn’t over.

She had to be sworn in as a lawyer in New York before she was allowed to take the Bar in South Dakota.   She only had five days to prepare for the South Dakota test after that ceremony.

“It feels like it happened so fast. You know, when you’re studying and you’re in the process you feel like it’s so slow,” said Tamayo.

Lorena has this message for anyone who might be in a similar situation with a long road ahead.  “You just gotta go for it because you have to make things happen for you. They’re just not gonna happen. You’re never know how much you will be able to accomplish if you don’t at least try it.”

Three Bar Exams later, Lorena is now an an attorney at Morgan Theeler Law Firm in Mitchell.  Lorena hopes to eventually become an Immigration Lawyer.

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