Richard D. Salgado: Finding the Right Path in an Unusual Way
By Amy Ortiz
“It was still a very hard decision,” Salgado said. “I will always, for the rest of my life, remember the night I wrote up the email to the UCLA film program saying, ‘Cancel my deferment, I’m not coming. Thank you very much.’”
After joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 17, and serving a two-year, Spanish-speaking mission in Florida, Richard D. Salgado unknowingly began his path into law at BYU where he earned his BA in English with honors and minored in Visual Arts and Theater and Media Arts.
“I was dead set on graduate film school,” Salgado said. “ I’d written and directed plays during college, and that was 100% my focus.” Following this focus, Salgado applied to the graduate film directing programs at UCLA, USC, and NYU.
“Then it dawned on me one day,” Salgado said. “Oh my gosh! I’ve applied and put all my future on three MFA programs which collectively accept only twenty people, or so, a year. What’s going to happen to me if I don’t get in?”
That shocking realization led Salgado to register for the LSAT the last possible day he could. He said, “I didn’t know what I was doing and I was really blessed to do well on it. However, it turned out that I actually got into the MFA programs, so suddenly, I had two choices and I really didn’t know what to do.”
Salgado explained that he had had very little interest in law school but that it was “really Carl Hernandez, who was Dean of Admissions at the time,” who talked to him and became a “huge part of getting [Salgado] to commit to coming to BYU Law School.”
“Law was never in my plans,” he said. “Not even close. Everybody who knew me, every friend I had, was absolutely stunned when I chose to go to law school. It was such a 180-degree turn from who I was.”
Even one of Salgado’s professors who had written him wonderful letters of recommendation for the MFA programs replied: “I can’t do this. I just can’t write a letter for law school. I think the world of you, but I can’t do that because I know that I want you so badly to go to the MFA programs.”
Despite this encounter and his great desire to attend film school, Salgado decided to defer his MFA program for one year and give law school a chance. During this first year, Salgado found his mind loved engaging with legal issues and he felt that litigation “brought together a lot of the skills and experiences [he] had had in creative writing, in theatre, and in other aspects of life.” However, deciding between film school and law school at the end of the year was still very difficult for Salgado.
He said, “I will always, for the rest of my life, remember the night I wrote the email to the UCLA film program saying, ‘Cancel my deferment, I’m not coming. Thank you very much.’ It was wrenching to do that. However, it was something I went to the temple about, I prayed about, and felt very strongly that as much as I loved film, and as much as I would have loved that career, this was the right path to be following.”
For Salgado (’06), finding the right path has opened up the door to receive many opportunities and success. Salgado is currently a partner at Jones Day in Dallas, Texas, and in 2019, was given the honor of being named a Diversity and Inclusion Champion by the Texas Lawyer magazine. This honor recognized those “who are either diverse and have contributed to the law in some way, or who have contributed to diversity efforts.”
“For me, it was a couple of things,” Salgado said. “I think it was really some of the things that I have worked to overcome in life to get to the point in law that I’m at. I was very poor as a child, and it seems crazy now, but I was at various times living in and out of homeless shelters, moving sixteen times before I got out of elementary school.”
Salgado explained that this economic diversity was a huge part of his upbringing and something that has permanently colored how he approaches law and life.
He said, “When you grow up a certain way, when there is nobody in your family who has ever gone to college or who has ever had a stable job, it’s a very different perspective to then find yourself at law school and actually succeeding as a lawyer. It affects how I perceive people, how I perceive different parties and cases, all sorts of things.”
Furthermore, Salgado’s American and Colombian heritage has also played a role in his diverse background. Throughout his life, Salgado found it very difficult to understand his identity and classify himself because of his mixed background. However, at some point he realized “that by just ignoring the fact that [he] had Colombian heritage, [he] was really doing a disservice to others who were coming from diverse backgrounds.”
This realization further pushed Salgado to be an advocate for diversity within law firms and strengthened his desire to help others coming from diverse backgrounds through pro bono efforts. His wife, Sarah, was a special education teacher for several years of their marriage, so a lot of Salgado’s efforts have focused around disability rights and special education where he has “been able to build a pretty robust pro bono practice, representing special education, students, parents, and all sorts of legal issues.”
“A lot of the time, especially as a litigator at a very large law firm, it’s really easy to identify the biggest successes being this or that case I’ve won and base it on dollar signs,” Salgado said. “But when I truly say what my biggest successes are I think first and foremost of the pro bono successes I’ve had, where we’ve really changed the law, especially in special education, to make a difference.” This marker of success has really helped Salgado find fulfillment within the law, and although his path to law was very unusual and diverse, he continues to use that diversity to help others and succeed.
As an active member of the BYU Law Alumni Board and J. Reuben Clark Law Society, Salgado extends his advice to current law students and legal professionals, saying, “Be confident. Always move forward with the belief that you belong where you are, that you can succeed, that you’re there because you belong there, and to act that way. Don’t be timid or afraid of the moment.
“The other thing, especially as a young lawyer coming up, is to treat everyone well. The reality is you have no idea which of your classmates, coworkers, or others you cross paths with, including the opposing counsel sometimes, will end up being influential and important to your own career years later. You just never really know, so it’s so important to treat everyone as you should anyways, to be helpful and to be a positive influence on everybody around you because that will come back around invariably.”