Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Cristina M. Ortiz of the Law Office of Cristina M. Ortiz P.A. in the 2020 Women in Law special issue to discuss her career and her aspirations.
AALM: When did you decide to become a lawyer and why?
Ortiz: I think it was something that I had in my head since I was a little girl. I was really bad at math and hated any class that had to do with numbers. I was strong in the areas of language, reading comprehension and grammar. I asked my mom what occupation would allow me to do the least math and she told me to practice law. Ironically, today the type of law that I do has me crunching numbers daily.
AALM: What do you find rewarding about being an attorney? What do you find most challenging about your practice?
Ortiz: I enjoy breaking the stereotype for attorneys as well. I think it’s great that clients are very educated now, due to the internet, but it also poses challenges such as client doubt and perhaps a lack of confidence in attorneys. As an attorney, I feel I have to compete against the information provided on the Internet.
AALM: Tell us about the early years of your career.
Ortiz: I was very scared in the beginning of my career. I went through the motions while I was a law student. I competed in the trial team competitions, applied for internships, represented children as a Guardian Ad Litem and even became a certified legal intern for the Miami Dade State Attorney’s office. However, I really had no direction, nor did I really know what I wanted to do. I graduated law school in 2008 which was right in the middle of the economic crisis. As a young and new lawyer, I was worried about my career and my future. However, I got a job right away working at a foreclosure and bankruptcy law firm (that type of law was very much in demand in those years!) Although it was not exactly what I wanted to do, I felt very lucky to have a job. Looking back, I had front row seats to a very historic time in our country and I learned a lot. There’s a movie called “The Big Short”. As I watched it, I relived the first 3-4 years of my career.
AALM: How is your career different today than how you envisioned it in law school?
Ortiz: My career is not that different from what I envisioned in law school. I always had an idea that I would be doing transactions. I knew I was not cut out for litigating (even though I was good at arguing, per my father). I also knew that I wanted a flexible schedule and that I wanted to work for myself. Today, I’m proud to say that I have had my own firm for six years. I have maintained my flexibility and I have been fortunate enough to grow my referral sources as well as my office staff. I love what I do because I am able to grow as a person and as a professional simultaneously.
AALM: What experiences have taught you the most?
Ortiz: I learned the most from my experience interacting with clients and previous employers. I felt that I was able to provide an empathetic angle where as my previous employers were just focused on paying the bills. Now as a business owner, I totally understand the stress that comes with paying salaries and maintaining a business. However, I also remember what it was like dealing with unhappy clients who felt taken advantage of. So I would say that my biggest teachers were my previous employers. I learned what NOT to do, I learned how to NOT treat clients and I learned how to NOT treat employees.
AALM: Tell us a funny story from your practice.
Ortiz: I practice real estate law and therefore I deal with buyer and seller disclosures when they are negotiating and preparing the initial contract. I had a seller call me and ask me if she had to disclose to the buyer that there was a ghost in the property and whether she was going to have to lower the purchase price due to the fact that there was a ghost.
AALM: How welcoming do you think the South Florida legal community is to women practitioners?
Ortiz: Thankfully, I actually think that the south Florida legal market for women is very welcoming. South Florida in general is very entrepreneurial. A woman owning her own business and her own law firm is common and well accepted. From my perspective, women in the legal field are confident and respected.
There are so many groups that are focused on growing women in practice. Every chamber and every civic group that I have visited, always has a group focused on the growth of female membership. There are endless online communities just for female lawyers as well. I personally respect and admire the female solo practitioners who are also mothers.
AALM: Tell us something about yourself that people will be surprised to learn.
Ortiz: Well on a personal level, I’m shy and I appreciate privacy (people are always surprised to learn that about me). I’ve also been working hard for the last 2 years or so on growing spiritually and becoming the best version of myself- I dedicate a lot time towards that. I also recently started an online community dedicated to alcohol free cocktails, as a hobby. I share alcohol free recipes and other colorful info. Professionally, I am the first lawyer in my family. I enjoy my work and I feel accomplished when I accomplish something for my clients.
AALM: What do you enjoy doing outside of the office?
Ortiz: What I really appreciate about my work is that it allows me to enjoy my life. I love to travel. Any opportunity I get to travel, I take it. I don’t care where it is, as long as it is something and somewhere new. I love witnessing, seeing and experiencing different cultures and I love observing how other people around the world live. If I’m not traveling, I love the outdoors, boating, the beach and exercising. I like trying almost anything new. I also just became an aunt for the first time. Visiting my twin nephews, Jake and Joey, has definitely become one of my top hobbies!
AALM: What traits do you think make an attorney exceptional? What’s the difference between a good attorney and an outstanding one?
Ortiz: Attorneys are empathetic and try to place themselves in their clients’ shoes, are the most exceptional. It is because they can feel what their clients are feeling and thinking. A client needs to know that their attorney is on their side and has their back. An attorney who can do this offers peace of mind and that is invaluable.