Q&A: Lariss Maldonado '12: Board Chair, ACLU Minnesota
Lariss Maldonado '12, senior counsel in the Policy, Regulatory Relations and Remediation Section at Wells Fargo, recently became the board chair of the ACLU of Minnesota. Maldonado served on the organization’s board for more than five years before taking over as chair in April. She recently discussed her new leadership role at the ACLU of Minnesota, her career path, public service work, and her experiences at Minnesota Law.
Congratulations on your recent appointment as board chair for the ACLU of Minnesota. Can you describe in general terms what you do in this role?
I am responsible for ensuring oversight and accountability in the organization and setting the board’s agenda in alignment with the mission. I work closely with the executive director and generally support the organization in strategic guidance and planning. It ends up being a little bit of everything, including operations and personnel, fundraising and events, engaging partner organizations, and working with national leadership.
You have been on the board of the ACLU of Minnesota for more than five years now. What are a few challenges and opportunities for the organization?
When Trump was elected, people became keenly aware of the very real and very imminent threats to civil liberties. We have seen systemic attacks on the democratic processes that are the foundation of our freedom and safety in this country. Fortunately, this has motivated people to action and the ACLU-MN, along with many other progressive organizations, saw an unprecedented influx of support. We have grown exponentially and moved quickly to take action on that increased support. There are two big challenges from my perspective leading a nonprofit organization. First, I want to make sure that our growth can be sustainable in the long term by building out the necessary infrastructure and oversight. Second, we have seen opposition mounting and becoming emboldened, and it is clear that we need to rally even more support to be able to meet demands for our programmatic work and leverage the strength of our membership. The ACLU-MN’s issue areas are facing intense challenges today, but we are in a unique position as an organization with a holistic approach, working in impact litigation, lobbying, and community engagement.
There is a lot going on in the legal area of civil rights these days. What do you see as some of the key threats to civil rights?
With the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, it is clear that defending privacy and due process are at the center of our battle. Justice Thomas’s concurrence stated it clearly, that the door is open to “reconsider all of [the Supreme] Court’s substantive due process precedents.” We thought we had finally made it past what should’ve been a basic threshold, supporting rights of families and fundamental personal liberties. But we can no longer rely on the Supreme Court to act as a backstop to protect rights.
What are a couple of interesting/ particularly timely projects that the ACLU of Minnesota is involved with right now?
Of course we are engaged in response to the Dobbs decision. We also invested significantly this year in getting the Student Data Privacy Act passed, which was inspired by the sudden shift to online learning and relying even more on technology for education.
You have also had extensive involvement with the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association, including serving as president and as a member of its board. What do you think the legal profession needs to do to improve in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
The profession needs to take a critical look at the underlying causes resulting in our chronic failure to retain and promote diverse lawyers. And we need to get uncomfortable to truly effect change. A big part of that is being brave enough to have and listen to hard conversations. And being willing to make room for others and treat our colleagues fairly.
About a year ago you segued from working in the corporate department of a law firm to working in-house at Wells Fargo. How has that transition been?
I love working at the bank. It’s a dream job. I appreciate being able to do substantive, challenging work in an environment where there is constant learning and always an opportunity to stretch and grow. And I have a stellar, collaborative team that I am inspired by.
Did you have a favorite experience—clinic, class, activity, etc.—at Minnesota Law that you would like to share?
Hands down my favorite part of law school was Jean Sanderson's and Perry Moriearty’s Child Advocacy Clinic. Clinics are vital to seeing what it really means to be a lawyer and learning how to work with clients. And it didn’t hurt that we had such a powerful group of women in our class.
Minnesota Law seeks to cultivate lawyer-leaders. Can you describe what being a lawyer-leader means to you? What skills are most necessary?
I am constantly trying to improve my leadership skills, and I have been fortunate to find opportunities to lead and make an impact in community and bar organizations. And of course, these skills have all made me a better lawyer and contributor in my full-time jobs. It is important to work collaboratively, both in leadership positions and on teams. Everyone brings value to the team, and the best leaders bring out the best in everyone they work with.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy riding my Peloton, golfing, running, and spending time with my two-year old and four-year old children. We have a few families we are friends with who all have kids the same age and love having the whole circus of children over.
What are a few interesting items one might see on your desk or hanging on your office wall?
I have a few ornaments from a San Antonio artist, Very That, including one that says “Échale ganas, mija,” which translates to an expectation to work hard. And of course lots of photos and drawings from my kids! Lots of inspiration to keep grinding.