Avila Rodriguez Hernandez Mena & Garro LLP (AVILA) is celebrating its 15-year anniversary by sharing how the firm was built, early struggles and successes, and what other young entrepreneurial attorneys should know before starting their own firm.
Avila is the creation of seasoned attorneys who chose to depart one of the nation’s largest Am Law 50 firms with a shared vision: to develop a law firm where they could provide the highest level of client service.
Since its inception in August 2007, our founders have strategically built Avila “brick by brick,” carefully selecting a team of lawyers and business partners united by a common thread—a collaborative spirit and unwavering commitment to excellence.
Today, Avila employs over 50 individuals in South Florida, and serves over 800 clients throughout the globe and across various industries through five key practice areas: banking and financial services; commercial litigation; corporate law, mergers and acquisitions; real estate, zoning and land use; and immigration.
Alcides “Al” Avila has been a mentor to Patricia “Patti” Hernandez for over 20 years, since the beginning of her law career. “Patti wasn’t only part of my team, but also part of my family,” recalls Al, founding partner and banking practice co-leader. When the founders set out to build AVILA, they had worked together for decades and shared similar sentiments.
Our founding partners were excited to start a firm that reflected their ideals and identity; but perhaps most importantly, they agreed the timing was right to build their own legacy.
“We had the right combination of experience and expertise in the group, and we knew exactly the kind of place we wanted to create – both for ourselves and for our clients,” says Al.
“It’s not every day you have six people who are established in their law careers ready to take a huge leap of faith together,” shared Wilfredo “Fred” Rodriguez, founding partner and litigation practice co-leader. “We have been fortunate to grow together and live out our vision, providing Big Law sophistication while maintaining the boutique firm personalization we are known for.”
When the Going Gets Tough
Starting a new business isn’t always smooth sailing.
“You’re on a different adventure when you start your own firm,” shared Asnardo “Nardy” Garro, founding partner and co-leader in the banking and corporate law practices. “The first challenge the team came up against was a recession. Everyone was braving that storm in their own way, and it made us question the timing of our decision.”
That timing, however, turned out to give AVILA an advantage: our young firm was uniquely positioned to service a market clamoring for reasonable fees and direct access to highly skilled and trusted partners.
“In our business, credibility is everything,” says Daniel ‘Dan’ Mena, founding partner and litigation practice co-leader. “Trust from our clients and in one another was key to our success, then and now.”
Defective Outboxes and Other Early Challenges
It’s no secret that working at a large firm has its perks, and entrepreneurs learn early on that they must wear many hats.
“Dan and I were the IT team,” recalls Al. “We didn’t apply for that role, but everyone else saw us as the tech-savvy ones, so we had to run around lending a hand (or a cable) where needed.”
Without multiple layers of operations and office support staff, the team discovered another challenge: “We all had outboxes on our desks, we were accustomed to placing correspondence there and it would get to its destination. After the first day, papers just piled up – they weren’t going anywhere. We started calling them ‘defective,’ but what we learned is we desperately needed office services.”
Focus on Team Culture
AVILA prioritized adding the right people who would be goal-oriented team players, with an innate need to succeed. AVILA’s founders were determined to find a team who would work alongside them to develop an office they could call home. Though intimidating for some, the founding partners all sat together on every interview to be certain that all newcomers would be the right fit.
“It was important for us to develop an inclusive culture, where everyone felt heard and respected,” said Patti. “Young associates often bring a fresh outlook, but you’ll only benefit from their innovative ideas if they are comfortable speaking up.”
An open-door policy isn’t enough if the team doesn’t believe their insights will be acted upon.
“As a team, we have been tested by grief, illness, economic uncertainty… Through it all, there has to be a shared commitment to what’s best for the firm,” shared Patti. “When we sit around the table making tough decisions, we trust one another and the support of our entire team.”
Starting Your Own Firm? Mind the Gap(s)
“You have to think of everything, and surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to wear many hats and figure it out together,” said Al.
Before beginning a firm, attorneys should have a plan for the corporate structure, management team, compensation structure, strategic plans, IT, marketing, and so much more.
“It takes much more than good clients and experienced lawyers to keep the lights on,” said Eugenio “Gene” Hernandez, founding partner and immigration practice leader.
Developing relationships is a key component for success, and there’s no substitute for time and credibility. AVILA maintains hundreds of clients who have been on board since day one.
“When you take time to nurture your client relationships, act as trusted advisors as they face new challenges, and prioritize understanding their business and strategic goals – that’s how you can grow and evolve with your clients,” said Fred.
The final piece of advice our founders shared is the importance of creating a space where attorneys can succeed.
“The practice of law is not easy. Legal professionals face more challenges today than they did 10 years ago. As a law firm, it’s incumbent on us to ensure our team is equipped to overcome and succeed in each aspect of their career,” concluded Dan.
The world is changing quickly, the way we work has been transformed in just the last two years, many people’s priorities have changed, we are dealing with economic challenges and international turmoil. We are living in a time when making long-term plans seems more difficult than ever.
Through uncertainty and unforeseen obstacles, one thing remains true: AVILA will strive to continue being a place where lawyers come to enjoy practicing law and become better professionals; where people work hard and still find time to have fun together, and where they have the flexibility to enjoy their families and the things they love to do; and where clients can have full confidence that their most sensitive matters are being handled by credible and experienced professionals.
Click to read the original article on the Daily Business Review.