As a child growing up in Los Angeles near the University Park Campus, Dalila Corral Lyons ’81 considered attending USC “a far-fetched dream.”
No one in her family had ever gone to college before, she explained.
Today, Lyons is not only an alumna of the USC Price School of Public Policy, but she makes a meaningful impact in the community through her work as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, where she brings her lifelong commitment of equality and justice. She also serves as a mentor to both practitioners and students, instilling confidence and helping them to achieve their own dreams.
Discovering a passion
Born in what she calls the idyllic town of Durango, Mexico, Lyons and her family moved to the United States in the early 1960s.
“I was about 5 or 6 years old,” recalled Lyons, who was one of six children. “My mother stayed home with the family, and my father was a cook at a restaurant. He had been working here in the U.S. prior to us, and then he brought the whole family. So we started a new life.”
Lyons always had a strong sense of fairness and integrity, but did not have any role models in the legal profession. That changed when she earned a scholarship from the USC Latino Alumni Association (then called the USC Mexican American Alumni Association) and began her university career.
“My interest in the law developed as I became more aware of how I could make a job out of my passion for equality and justice,” she said. “USC really cemented that.”
Lyons gleaned particular inspiration from the Washington, D.C., Semester Undergraduate Program, offered by USC Price, which was then the School of Public Administration. The program gave students a unique opportunity to live and complete an internship in the nation’s capital.
Through this program, Lyons interned in the White House’s Office of Hispanic Affairs. She assisted the president’s adviser on Hispanic affairs by doing research and writing to develop policy positions and provide background for speeches.
“I got to see the legislative process — how laws worked and how they really have an impact and how significant they are,” she said. “So through that program, I clarified that yes, the legal profession is perfect for me.”
In her free time, she sat in the U.S. Supreme Court and listened to arguments. “I was just riveted by that,” she noted. “And I said, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ ”
After earning her bachelor of science in public administration from USC, she attended law school at the University of California, Berkeley, and spent a summer abroad studying international business law in Mexico City.
She practiced for 21 years as a business and entertainment litigator with private law firms, as well as a civil litigator with the Office of the County Counsel and the Sheriff’s Department, where she served as chief legal adviser. She also volunteered as a pro bono attorney, serving the needs of low-income clients.
USC Price, Lyons said, shaped her career.
“A large part of my career was representing public entities,” she said. “And my public administration work at USC was quite handy because I had to deal with public policy issues and public entity issues, advising the Board of Supervisors and the County departments.”
Serving on the bench
In 2005, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Lyons to the bench of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. After serving for a decade on criminal trials, she recently transitioned to civil trials involving more than $25,000 in controversy. Cases range from employment matters to business and contract disputes.
It’s very important to me to make sure that the parties have their disputes resolved in a fair and an equitable manner.
Dalila Corral Lyons
“It’s very important to me to make sure that the parties have their disputes resolved in a fair and an equitable manner so that everybody has an opportunity to voice their positions and their arguments,” she said. “Our society is very litigious, so there are a lot of lawsuits. And we hope the justice system is an effective vehicle to resolve those disputes.”
To further improve the court’s effectiveness, Lyons supports the effort to increase diversity on the bench. She is a member of the Superior Court’s Community Outreach Committee and Diversity Subcommittee, and serves on the board of the California Latino Judges Association.
“By diversity, it’s not just race or ethnicity,” she said. “It involves diversity of experience: judges who have experience in family law, who have experience in children’s issues, in business issues. So diversity enhances the access to the courts and the perception of the public that their cases are heard by a diverse group. I think diversity brings strength in the justice system.”
Developing future leaders
To this end, Lyons continually mentors law students and attorneys to encourage them to apply to the bench. One of her current mentees, Eric Gamboa, attends the USC Gould School of Law.
“Judge Lyons is not only my mentor but also a role model as both a legal professional and community advocate,” Gamboa said. “She has provided me with invaluable career advice and helped me identify the practice area that I want to pursue. This past summer, she was able to put me in contact with a deputy district attorney, and that contact resulted in a summer externship that has been the most memorable legal experience of law school.
“She embodies the Trojan Family spirit that makes USC unique among the nation’s top universities,” he added.
Lyons also helps many others fulfill their educational and professional aspirations. She teaches new judges as a faculty member of the Judicial College of California, and fellow judges at the Superior Court. She delivers keynote speeches at high schools, youth conferences and colleges, and oversaw the awarding of college scholarships to Latino students as past president of the Vikki Carr Scholarship Foundation.
“The best advice I would have for somebody who wants to be a judge is to build up a good experience and reputation,” she said. “Enjoy what you do, and be respectful and professional. When you are seeking to be a judge, your reputation is everything.”