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EPGD Business Law: Beyond the Legal Skills

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Attorney at Law Magazine Miami Publisher Rhenne Leon sat down with 2019 Superstars Eric P. Gros-Dubois, Oscar A. Gomez and Elizabeth M. Fernandez of EPGD Business Law to discuss their career, their firm and their plans for the future. 

Eric P. Gros-Dubois: The Sky Is the Limit

AALM: When did you know you wanted to become an attorney?

Gros-Dubois: I knew I wanted to become a lawyer when I joined the debate team in high school. It seems like the natural career for type-A, too smart for their own good, argumentative children. I like the competition, the idea that the truth will always win, and that there is a notion of fairness and justice.

AALM: Do you have any mentors who encouraged you?

Gros-Dubois: I have been blessed with a number of mentors. My first boss is still a regular resource and friend. My neighbor was a successful businessman who takes time to talk me through problems. I also have a great friend who became my landlord when I opened the firm and who has great practical business advice. My stepfather is still practicing with his own corporate law solo practice. All these people have taken the time to share from their experiences and point me in the right direction.

AALM: What experiences have taught you the most?

Gros-Dubois: Early in my career my boss had me handle a jury trial, on three weeks notice, without a second chair. I handled everything from voir-dire to closing arguments. That week was the most intense of my career and made me appreciate the skill and art of lawyering more than anything else.

AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about your practice?

Gros-Dubois: I love working with entrepreneurs. Everyone has a passion, and a vision. They are from around the world and in so many industries. Today, I worked with a potential franchisor for a home cleaning business, an app developer from Ecuador working to invent the next Uber, a major cheese importer and distributor, an accounting practice startup, and a large flower grower.

AALM: What do you find particularly challenging about your practice?

Gros-Dubois: As the firm has grown, evolved, and matured, the focus, and the stress keeps moving. In the beginning, the stress was on the marketing strategy and execution. When we started to have success with marketing, the stress moved to effective selling techniques to convert potential clients into happy clients. Next, we struggled to keep up with the work. Then we had to hire, mentor and manage the growing team. This has been our biggest struggle for the last few years – growing pains with office space, technology, and building a cohesive team that buys into our firm’s culture.

AALM: What’s the difference between a good attorney and an outstanding one?

Gros-Dubois: A good attorney knows the law. A great attorney knows how to inspire confidence and peace of mind. The three keys we have found are managing the projects, managing the budgets and, most importantly, managing the clients. Our most successful attorneys have great people skills in addition to being great lawyers.

AALM: What compelled you to start your own firm?

Gros-Dubois: In the greatest irony of the universe, my last firm rolled out a new program requiring the attorneys to meet networking and client development goals. I strongly objected to this change in the firm culture and focus. The increased friction ultimately led me to leave the firm and hang up my own shingle. Now, all I do is focus on networking and client development. The thing I fought so hard against is now my most important focus. Life is funny.

AALM: Thus far in your career, what are you most proud of accomplishing?

Gros-Dubois: The firm I’ve built, first alone, and for the last few years with an amazing partner, is my proudest accomplishment. I have never worked in a bigger company or firm than the one I have managed to put together. Our culture is to work hard, make the world a better place, make money, and have lots of fun. My team has bought into this, and the sky is the limit!

AALM: What is the one piece of advice you would give to a law student?

Gros-Dubois: Clerking in firms is the most important thing you can do during school. Find a mentor who will invest in you and your career, and a firm that will give you opportunities to engage directly with clients. I believe in the value of being a generalist, and I’m lucky to surround myself with specialists. Try to have a broad exposure to the law. This will help you relate to as many people as possible. Don’t forget, the robots and AI will try to replace us, and the most successful future attorneys will have the best people skills and bedside manner.

AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in the future?

Gros-Dubois: I see us tripling the size of the firm, with three successful satellite offices and a total of 25 attorneys. I want to build a legacy and a foundation for helping achieve my philanthropic goals.

Oscar A. Gomez: Live for that Feeling

AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney?

Gomez: I have always been logical and analytical by nature. Things need to make sense to me, so I was drawn to the daily intellectual sparring session that is the law. Watching Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men” made me say, “That’s what I want to do.” I was drawn to the idea of throwing your entire self into a case and winning. There are very few jobs in this world where you have a winner and a loser – litigation can give you those highs and lows.

AALM: Do you have any mentors or professors who encouraged you?

Gomez: I have been blessed with many great professors and mentors in my life from my eighth grade civics teacher all the way up to my civil procedure professor in law school. The best teachers challenge you to think differently and stimulate you to find answers on your own. When I look at the litigators I admire, they are people who never stop learning, never stop looking for mentors, and are not too arrogant to think that they have all the answers.

AALM: What was the greatest lesson you learned in law school?

Gomez: Lawyers are by and large smart people. It was not until I reached law school that I looked around and said, “Wow, everyone in this room is highly intelligent and highly motivated.” Most lawyers want to do a good job, get results for their clients, and make a living doing it. Coming to that realization has always motivated me to step up my game and compete to do the very best I can for my clients.

AALM: What do you find most rewarding about your practice?

Gomez: Getting my clients results at the best value for their money motivates me and in cases where we have positive outcomes it is very rewarding. Beyond victory, I have found keeping your promises and commitments to your clients to be the most rewarding. I always look back on the assessment I give them at that first meeting. When the reality (six months, one year later) matches that assessment, there is no better feeling for me. I live for that feeling.

AALM: Thus far in your career, what are you most proud of accomplishing?

Gomez: Running a law firm with my friend and business partner Eric Gros-Dubois, with an incredible team of attorneys and admin staff, is my proudest professional accomplishment. It makes me thankful that I have a wife, Diana Gomez, and a family that support my dreams. I am super proud of what we have built at EPGD and I am motivated to continue to make it better.

AALM: How would you describe the culture of the firm?

Gomez: Our firm’s culture is young and energetic. Our average age is 29 and my partner and I are 35 and 38, respectively. This gives us many advantages like being very tech forward, engaging, eager, and active in networking. We don’t take anything for granted, we work hard, and emphasize customer service. The most important thing that Eric and I drill into the associates is communicating with and managing the client. If the client contacts you to ask what is going on in their case that is generally your failure.

AALM: What case most defined your practice?

Gomez: The case I am proudest of was a trial back in February 2018 where we represented a gentleman who was being sued personally by a publicly traded Fortune 500 company for a business deal gone wrong with my client’s entity. The Fortune 500 company was trying to go aft er my guy personally and do an end around on the corporate shield in the process. We were going up against a respected national firm with tremendous resources. We were able to prevail in that case. I had researched the issues and was confident in our position but prevailing at the end of the day and saving our client from personal bankruptcy was one of my proudest professional accomplishments. It helped remind me that when the law is on your side that is the most powerful weapon you can have.

AALM: What is the one piece of advice you would give to a student or young attorney?

Gomez: Be patient, find mentors, and develop skills. The early part of your career should be focused on those things. It is great to get out of law school and make a lot of money but the most important thing you can ever do as a young attorney is to find your craft, learn it, and own it at all costs. When you become good at something money will follow.

AALM: What events are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

Gomez: We are hosting conferences with other Miami professionals this year in Colombia, Ecuador, and Canada. I really enjoy when we do these events because it allows me to work and at the same time travel with my wife who always comes with me.

Elizabeth M. Fernandez: Eye on the Prize

AALM: Do you have any mentors or professors that encouraged you along the way?

Fernandez: I have been fortunate to have many mentors over the years, but my parents have been the most influential mentors in my career. My parents are blue-collar immigrants from Cuba. They have taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance, as well as not losing sight of what is important in life. There have been difficult times in my career, but my parents always managed to put things in perspective for me.

AALM: What experiences have taught you the most?

Fernandez: Being a young attorney in an area of law – estate planning – dominated by seasoned legal veterans has certainly forced me to catch up to my peers. Someone once said that time is a great teacher – they obviously have not been on the receiving end of a scathing tongue lashing from a judge. The experiences I have had in the courtroom and with my peers have certainly molded me as an attorney, and taught me some invaluable lessons.

I remember my first task as a newly minted attorney was to go down to the courthouse and make friends. Fortunately, I had some great resources who helped me survive a very difficult first year. There are some great people who are willing to help, so it is important to value those relationships and pay it forward.

AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about your practice?

Fernandez: I enjoy solving problems for my clients, finding creative ways to get the best results possible, and learning about unique nuances in the law. As an attorney, I am constantly learning how to handle different situations that can come up and perfecting my practice to be able to better serve my clients.

AALM: What do you find particularly challenging about your practice?

Fernandez: One of the biggest challenges in my practice is overcoming the apprehension from a client about working with an attorney. A lot of time goes into explaining estimated budgets, the reasoning behind a proposed time frame, what I will and will not bill for, etc. I do my best to approach these concerns from the client’s perspective, and try to put their minds at ease.

AALM: What is the one piece of advice you would give to a student or young attorney?

Fernandez: Do not lose sight of who you are as an individual. The legal profession is rewarding and fulfilling, but it is also bitter and difficult to navigate at times. When you are being tested physically, emotionally and mentally, the worst thing that can happen is not staying true to yourself. At the end of the day, problems get resolved, the sun will continue to rise in the east, and all things will pass – but if you lose sight of who you are as a person in this field, it’s tough to survive.

Law school does not prepare you for the real legal education that is first hand life experience. Once you are out in the field practicing law, you will learn civility, practicing “practical” law, managing projects and clients, and learning how to handle the everyday stresses of your personal and professional life. Learn from every experience, do not feel discouraged, and remember to play the long game.

AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in the future?

Fernandez: I have always had a passion for teaching, so I certainly see myself exploring options in the legal education field so I can pass on my experiences and knowledge to future attorneys. I also hope to build a larger practice in the trusts and estates field and expand my presence throughout Florida.

AALM: What personal trait most aided you in your career?

Fernandez: There are many traits that have been instrumental in my career, but the most important one so far has been my hard work and dedication. Getting to where I am today has not been easy – I could not have done it without my work ethic. My biggest fear is not seeing something through to the end, which certainly motivates me to work harder than the person next to me and keep my eye on the prize.

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