Thirteen years after Patricia Hernandez departed Holland & Knight to start a business boutique alongside six colleagues, the Avila Rodriguez Hernandez Mena & Garro partner used the pandemic to reflect on what was important to the firm.
“We had spent so long just going and going and going, we never had time to sit back and say, ‘What do we want from our firm going forward?’ ” Hernandez said in an interview. “ It was time to turn the page on a new chapter for the firm.”
Last year was about investment for the firm, which has grown to 23 attorneys in banking and finance, corporate M&A, immigration, litigation and arbitration, and real estate, zoning and land use. It had a state-of-the-art conference center constructed in its Coral Gables headquarters on Ponce de Leon Boulevard just in time for the pandemic to hit and updated client portals and software.
The firm also hired a marketing firm and rebranded its website; Hernandez built consensus for the firm to shorten its five-lawyer name to ”Avila.”
The partnership also had ideas for Hernandez. Managing partner since the firm’s founding, Alcides “Al” Avila opted to step down, although he’s staying on as a founding partner. The partnership decided Hernandez should take over; she started as managing partner this month.
“From the moment Patti began working for me as a first-year associate, I quickly realized she was a special individual and a force to be reckoned with,” Avila said in a statement. “Having mentored and watched her grow over the years, I am so very proud to see her take the helm as our new managing partner.”
One thing that won’t change is the firm’s mantra: “Resolver.”
“It translates to, ‘get it done,’ ” Hernandez said. “ We have that philosophy in the firm at all levels.”
Getting things done is in Hernandez’s blood. So is law: Her grandfather was a judge for decades in Cuba. Even though none of Hernandez’s immediate family in Hialeah had gone to college, she always wanted to be a lawyer.
After graduating from the University of Miami in 1993, Hernandez stuck around for law school, earning her juris doctorate in 1996. She got a job at Holland & Knight the same year after working at the Am Law 100 firm as a summer associate in 1995.
Having worked as a bank teller in college, Hernandez said the experience made her realize she enjoyed interacting with people — something she missed as an associate. Still, she said she cherished the opportunities and the mentorship she received in the firm’s Miami office.
“I tried to learn as much as I could, but it was a different environment,” she said. “I didn’t come from the environment of being in a high-rise on Brickell. I felt like a fish out of water, but there were some wonderful people there when I started, and I kind of grew into the job as the years went on.”
Avila was one of Hernandez’s mentors in the office. Hernandez made partner in 2004 and in 2007, the pair of attorneys and colleagues Asnardo Garro, Wilfredo Rodriguez, Eugenio Hernandez and Daniel Mena struck out on their own.
“It was never about us leaving for a different firm,” Hernandez said. “We wanted to see what it would be like to start our own. Some of our clients were being out-priced by the big firms.”
The 2008 financial crisis hit soon after.
“We looked at each other like, I don’t know what we’re doing,” Hernandez said. “But it turned out to be wonderful because prospective clients were looking for an alternative to a big firm and they came to firms like ours. We’ve been busy ever since the day we opened.”
While building the firm from a seven-lawyer boutique to a known regional brand, Hernandez said she had to learn how to balance her job with raising a son and a daughter, now 18 and 15, respectively.
“The world is a lot more flexible than it was when I first had my kids,” she said. “We lose a lot of great women lawyers over the years because the balance is very difficult.”
Hernandez said she learned to focus on what was most important at any given moment, whether that be an urgent client matter or her daughter’s basketball game.
“It can change from minute to minute,” she said. “I’ve been drafting a letter while watching a game one of my kids was playing in, looking up to see what the score is, then having to walk out and take a call from one of my clients.”
Hernandez said she wants to show her kids, especially her daughter, that there’s “so much to be done in life.”
Now at the helm, Hernandez said she’s doubling down on the meaning of ‘resolver.’
“You don’t give a client a 50-page memo on how they can’t do something,” she said. “I want that lesson to permeate at our firm. The younger attorneys learn that philosophy early on. Some attorneys say ‘we can’t do it.’ We say yes, let’s figure out a way of doing it so we can accomplish the goal of our client.”
Mentorship runs beyond the firm for Hernandez, who said she also counsels young bankers as they navigate heavily regulated financial sectors.
As a young attorney, she felt how beneficial a great mentor could be.
“Al (Avila), my mentor growing up as a lawyer —I always felt like he also sponsored me,” she said. “When I say sponsored, he would take me places where I was the only woman, or one of the youngest people there. He would make me speak to people, which was very instrumental in getting me out there even when I might not have been comfortable at that age. He was always pushing me, introducing me to people.”
For his part, Avila said Hernandez’s effectiveness as an attorney comes from her caring nature.
“She is an exceptional lawyer and leader,” he said in the statement. “Most importantly, she is an exceptional person who cares deeply about people and will continue to build upon our firm’s long-standing traditions of client-first service, mentoring and community giving.”
Born: Miami, 1972 Children: Daniel, 18 and Andrea, 15 Spouse: Hernan Luna Education: University of Miami School of Law, JD 1996; University of Miami, BA in Political Science and English 1993 Work Experience: Avila, founding partner, 2007 to present; managing partner, April 2021 to present