From Miami to Chicago: The Daughter of a Watchmaker Goes to Law School

How did the daughter of an immigrant watchmaker from Mexico City end up as a law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law fascinated by intellectual property law (IP)? She took a leap of faith and learned that timing is everything!

The Daughter of a Watchmaker

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Before I was old enough to tell time, I was surrounded by clocks. Grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, pocket watches, and everything in between.

Photo taken by Francesca Zepeda (2015)

I peeked into my father’s office. I saw him working late into the night with intricate tools and swift precision. One wrong move could undo all his progress. There were moments when his gentle, callused hands held the last existing item that once belonged to a client’s loved one.

One rainy afternoon, I pulled up a chair beside him and began to investigate. My father removed the watch’s face – exposing the hundreds of delicate, tiny pieces that magically fit together. Each piece seamlessly ticked and tocked its way through each second of the day.

He explained to me that each watch carries an untold story that, with fine-tuning, can be heard.

I knew then that I wanted to be the one telling the stories of those who have not been heard yet, such as my father’s. And eventually, I want to protect these stories. My seven-year-old self did not know there was such a thing as IP, let alone that it could protect written stories.

This age-old craft of watchmaking sustained my family, instilled in me the morals that shaped my way of life, and unknowingly provided me the foundation to thrive in the legal field. As the daughter of a watchmaker, I learned to value my time, to practice patience, and most importantly, to always take a moment to notice the little things.

From Front Page News to First Amendment Law

At the age of 17, I left home in Miami, Florida to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida (Go Gators). I honed in on my passion for storytelling through journalism. As the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, I naturally gravitated toward the underrepresented.

Photo taken by Francesca Zepeda (September 2017)

Hungry for reporting meaningful connections, I rushed to the frontlines of student protests that multiplied after a newly elected president. That is where I met Giancarlo, an undocumented student who eventually became the face of a movement to educate the student body on the importance of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly referred to as DACA.

On a Tuesday night in fall 2017, Giancarlo stood in front of thousands in a packed auditorium, his hands shaking as the room fell quiet. He cleared his throat and began the forum by saying, “We have to go back under the shadows.” Now, his untold story was in my hands and needed fine-tuning.

Thinking of my Mexican father at his workbench and the living Cuban ancestors whose legacy rested on my shoulders, I remembered to be intentional with my time. My article made waves after it got published in the student newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator.

Photo taken by Daniela Arias and permission granted by Daniela Arias (December 2018)

Then, unexpectedly, my budding journalism career took a major turn. In my final semester, I took a course on communications law with professor Clay Calvert and was captivated by the value of the First Amendment.

During his first lecture, I realized this 45-word amendment protected what has given me purpose throughout my entire life: writing. Like a sponge, I absorbed knowledge of this “new” world where constitutional law, copyright and trademark all intersect.

It was the first time in my life I finished an entire textbook written by a professor (which was not required) and is antithetical to the “senioritis” I was coping with at the time.

Before this class, I had no idea I could make a living protecting the works of fellow creators. Though I was about to graduate and already had a marketing job lined up, I thought, “What if I went to law school?”

Life in the Office (Still Dreaming About Law School)

Desperate for financial stability after graduation in 2018, I put the dream of law school in my back pocket and stumbled into a real-life “The Devil Wears Prada” work environment.

The rush of covering breaking news faded as I hustled side-by-side with my former CEO. Feeling empty at the end of another workweek, I applied the art of patience like my favorite watchmaker. During a lunch break, I emailed my former media law professor hoping he would remember me four years later in 2020.

He promptly replied and organized a call shortly after. He said wisely, “If you’ve been thinking about it for this long, you should go for it! There are so many careers you can have with a Juris Doctor.”

He was right. I put my journalist hat back on and reached out to legal professionals in my community. Over cups of coffee and tea, I listened to the stories of attorneys practicing Patent and Trademark law at Sanchelima & Associates, P.A., Real Estate law at Mary Ann Ruiz, P.A., and others. These conversations recharged my hope that I actually could have a career in IP law. One where I could create and protect untold stories.

Florida Girl in the Midwest

I finally took the leap of faith, applied to law school and Loyola Chicago welcomed me with open arms. But was I about to leave everything I had ever known and move to the Midwest?

On another rainy afternoon, I hopped on a Zoom call to learn more about IP at Loyola. That was where I first met Professor Cynthia Ho. She calmed all my nerves and daunting expectations I had for law school and she genuinely cared about her students! Moreso, she evidently made a positive impact on her former students as they joined the call from all over the country to speak on their experiences in their expanding careers.

Photo taken by Isabella Mancini and permission granted by Isabella Mancini (March 2022)

From this same call, I met a colleague named Iris Gomez (a future classmate). She offered me her home so that I could visit Chicago and Loyola for the first time. I booked the flight and went on my first solo trip.

I fell in love with the city, even when it was gloomy with a crisp 25 °F and flurries all around (a brutal awakening for this Florida Gator). Even more, I found supportive faculty and students at this Jesuit institution.

The moment I got home from that trip, I committed to Loyola Chicago. This Florida girl had no idea what she was in for.

Home is Where The Library Is

Since then, I survived my first winter and first year of law school while making unconditional friendships with my classmates along the way.

My brain is also expanding with knowledge thanks to my brilliant professors at Loyola, including Estates, Tax and Art Law Professor Anne-Marie Rhodes and Criminal, Torts, and Evidence Law Professor Dean Strang. Thanks to Professor Strang, I am no longer afraid of cold calling!

From not knowing a single person in the city or time zone, I now have a community to call home and am excited about a purposeful career in law. Just like a watch, all of the moving pieces of my life perfectly aligned in order for me to tick and tock my way to this exact moment.

While sitting in the law library at Corboy, I appreciate the little things that make me a law student and human being. Do I know exactly where this path will take me? Not entirely sure just yet, but I know I can always trust my timing.

Francesca Zepeda
Associate Blogger
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2025