Growing up in the South, I embraced being different from my classmates. I loved that I was unique. I was raised in a mixed status, multi-cultural household in which my mother immigrated to the U.S. from Panama, and my father’s family, though he is adopted, came to the U.S. as Jewish immigrants from Russia. I spent Friday nights at Temple with my friends and Sunday mornings at Cathedral with my mother. What I learned from my multi-cultural, multi-faith childhood was that we are all the same, but different.
Through the years my worldview has not changed – diversity has always been a strength in my eyes. After surviving law school with my best friend/husband – we decided opening our own law firm was the path for us. We began with a “simple” dream – to become the largest immigration law firm in Denver that also happened to be Hispanic owned and operated. Over the last twelve years, we’ve accomplished just that and have learned a few things along the way.
We began to realize that we were fortunate. Though we worked 24/7, we had the opportunity to create a law firm, our law firm, a place where we felt comfortable. We began searching for Spanish-speaking staff so that our clients would also feel comfortable. We focused on Spanish-speaking clients because that was our strength. We could relate linguistically, historically, and culturally. As the years passed, it was our quality of work that grew our reputation and our client base to include individuals from all over the world.
In our roles as President of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, my husband and I both saw how young diverse attorneys struggle not only to learn a practice area, to market themselves, and how to maintain client relationships, but they also suffer from feelings of isolation and self-doubt. They feel isolated because they are alone in their firms, without coworkers or superiors that look like them or can relate to them. They are filled with self-doubt about their abilities, thinking they were accidentally hired – the “imposter syndrome”. They work extra hours, trying to prove themselves; they pretend to be people they are not, trying to fit in. As you can imagine, this type of existence is not fulfilling.
Though the Hernandez & Associates family has grown from two to thirty-six, our success stems from a simple concept – regardless of where we grew up in the U.S., where we were born in the world, that English might be our second language, how far we went in school, our gender, our religion, or the color of our skin, we have one common goal – to protect the rights of our clients and their families. Today we have twelve attorneys, of which eight are female. Our entire staff is made up of Latinas, some only graduated high school, others have gone to college, while others have left us to attend law school. Half our staff have children (we had a record number of baby showers in the last year). We saw an opportunity in giving people a chance to reach their dreams, regardless of their backgrounds. Even our vendors for printing/advertising are immigrants and entrepreneurs.
Our business strategy has been to surround ourselves with like-minded people – diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation has been a beautiful result of our efforts. We were honored to receive the Law Firm – Inclusiveness @ Work Award from the Center for Legal Inclusiveness in March, but we will not stop there. As leaders in our legal community, we need to continue to spread the message that diversity is vital to the survival of every organization. Diversity brings different perspectives and strengths to the table. More importantly, diversity should not be viewed as “checking a box.” It should be viewed as a conscious decision to give an equal opportunity to all and to recognize that some members of your team need you to reach out and make them feel welcome and part of the team. When you are open to diversity, you maximize your success, but like all relationships you must nurture your young diverse attorneys.
Christine M. Hernández, Esq., is a Shareholder at Hernandez & Associates, P.C. where she leads the law firm’s Immigration Department. Her practice focuses on Removal Defense, which requires her to appear before various Immigration Courts across the country. Christine is the current President of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, as well as Chair of the Hispanic National Bar Association’s Immigration Section. She also “enjoys” juggling a full-time schedule while being a mom to three future lawyers - ages 6, 5, and 19 months.