According to official census tallies, Hispanics account for at least half of the population growth in Palm Beach since 2010; the same year that Adriana Gonzalez, and her partner Charles Cartwright opened their law offices. From the outset, the vision for the firm of Gonzalez & Cartwright P.A. was to serve as a much-needed resource for this burgeoning ethnic community.
“It’s important to me because I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to move to the United States as a young child, and to become a U.S. citizen,” says Gonzalez. “I know how fortunate I am, and understand that not everyone has the same opportunities, or really luck. It’s greatly due to luck that some of us manage to get here with papers, and some of us don’t.”
Born in Armenia, Colombia, Gonzalez says the family moved back-and-forth between the two countries until she was about 9. It was difficult for her and her sister, but she says in the long run it was a blessing because she speaks, reads and writes in her native language as well as English.
“I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” she says. “Many of my family members in Colombia are lawyers, including my father before we moved to the United States. I just knew I wanted to be able to do something about social injustice.
“Again, I can’t help but feel so fortunate for my opportunities in this country,” she continues. “I just feel this responsibility to be a voice for the Hispanic community knowing there are so many people who can’t vote, or who are afraid to come forward when something bad happens, due to their legal status.”
The firm, which specializes in personal injury and civil litigation, has grown steadily over the past six years and grown into the law firm for Hispanics virtually through word-of-mouth.
“We didn’t get to where we are because we spent a lot of money on advertising on TV or billboards,” Charles Cartwright says. “We decided when we opened the offices that we would be a resource for Hispanics, whether documented or not. We wanted to offer a safe place where they can come to seek the advice they need. Even if someone comes to us with a situation that we do not handle, we make sure that they get to the right attorney or organization or resource that can provide the assistance they need.”
And, when Gonzalez and her partner do need to refer their client to another resource, they don’t just hand them a phone number. They make the introduction and then walk the client through the process to ensure they aren’t lost in the shuffle.
They also do more than their share of pro bono work. Take for instance, the case of the housekeeper who after cleaning not one, but several condos for a local landlord, still hadn’t been paid. They took her case to trial in small claims court, and made sure she received the compensation she had worked so hard to earn.
“Of course we didn’t accept a fee,” says Cartwright, “but as a result she spread the word that we truly do what we promise, that everyone here speaks fluent Spanish, and it’s a safe place to come. That’s how we began getting bigger and bigger cases, all through word-of- mouth.”
TALK THE TALK – WALK THE WALK
Many businesses these days, recognizing the growing Hispanic population, will advertise “Se Habla Español,” but Gonzalez & Cartwright’s commitment goes much deeper than a few carefully worded phrases or textbook Spanish.
“I’m proud that we’re not just a law firm that can advertise ‘we speak Spanish;’ we are a Hispanic firm. I’m very proud to be a Hispanic woman who is a partner in a law firm, and I think the community responds to that,” says Gonzalez. “The fact that this is a Hispanic-owned business helps clients know they are going to be treated with dignity when they come to us. They’re not just a file; every client is important.”
Dedicated to her clients and the practice of law, Gonzalez has litigated cases in state and federal court throughout Florida. Her areas of practice include personal injury, wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases, actively litigating and obtaining compensation for her clients in excess of $30 million.
But her commitment to her local community goes well beyond her role as an attorney.
“For Adriana it’s more than just representing her clients in personal injury cases,” explains Cartwright. “She’s incredibly active for Hispanic causes, whether it’s the Hispanic Education Coalition, Democratic Hispanic Caucus, or something as real as participating in neighborhood organizations. Recently, there has been an organized effort to clean up the neighborhood streets in east Lake Worth, and Adriana has been right there in the thick of things, picking up garbage with the local volunteers. She’s just very involved, and tries to help wherever she finds a need.”
She also donates hundreds of toys every year to the PBSO Toy Drive in Lake Worth and volunteers her time to wrap the presents to make sure all the needy children in Lake Worth have presents to open for the holidays.
“We’re very proud to represent the Hispanic community,” says Gonzalez, “and we fight against anti-immigration legislation. We don’t try to hide that, we’re proud to stand up for our beliefs. Whether that’s representing them in the courtroom, going to lobby days in Tallahassee, or attending rallies, registering voters in Hispanic neighborhoods, we’re 100 percent with the Hispanic community. We’re not apologizing for these convictions. Nor are we trying to hide it, and we’re always going to fight for the Hispanic community.”
SO MANY HATS
Not only is Gonzalez a highly successful and respected attorney and active in numerous civic and charitable organizations, she’s also a wife, mother and loving daughter.
“I feel my biggest challenge is trying to manage my role as a partner in a busy law firm and being the mother to two young sons,” she says. “Guilt can eat you up. If I’m taking a few minutes for myself, I feel wracked with guilt like I should be with my boys or working on a case.
“At the same time, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything,” she continues. “I feel very lucky to be my own boss and to have the ability to reach out and make an impact on so many lives. It’s challenging sure, and takes a lot of time management, but most of the time I can rearrange my schedule to make sure I can go to ‘Muffins with Mom’ at my boys’ school or take them to their T-ball game.”
Of course, Gonzalez admits she’s blessed with an abundance of support from her partner in the firm and her husband and parents.
“I’m extremely grateful to both my law partner and my husband who invariably end up carrying a lot of the load,” she says. “My parents live 10 minutes away, and they are the typical Hispanic grandparents who absolutely live for their grandchildren. If I need them, they are there.”
Though she claims to love all sports, Gonzalez admits her one true passion is soccer, and of course, specifically team Colombia.
“I’m a huge sports fan, I know more about sports than almost any guy I know! I get a little crazy,” she admits with a laugh. “I dress up in crazy outfits for soccer games, and yell my lungs out. I even worked for the Washington Nationals for a summer as a legal intern. I just grew up loving sports, which in a way makes me a good mom for two boys.”
KEEPING IT REAL
Gonzalez & Cartwright P.A. continues to grow, both in clients and new attorneys. New attorneys are carefully selected based on their capabilities and sincere desire to serve their clients. However, regardless of how big they grow, there are a few things the partners are in complete agreement about: first, they never see themselves with offices in a sleek, downtown high-rise. They purposely chose their location, to be part of the community they serve. Secondly, they never want to get so caught up in the day-to-day business of practicing law, that they lose touch with the people they’re so dedicated to helping.
“I don’t ever want to lose touch,” says Gonzalez. “I don’t want to be some partner who’s unavailable for clients, or that I’m no longer out in the community. So, no matter what we do in the future, or how much we might grow, I don’t want our identity to be lost.”