I recently sat down with Sonsiré Vargas-Calderón, a spirited Puerto Rican attorney whose ambitious nature and desire to help others brought her to where she is today in her legal career.
As part of her experience, Vargas-Calderón has managed cases for plaintiffs and defendants. She worked for major insurance companies representing clients in different matters. After moving to Texas, she began her immigration practice, where she found what she described as ‘her new passion.’ She decided to open her own law firm shortly after she started practicing immigration law.
“When you’re in an ever-changing profession, you need to keep yourself updated every single day. In my career I have never stopped learning and each day is a new book of things to study. As our world evolves, laws are applied and adapted to those changes and it is our responsibility as lawyers to be informed so we can advise our clients accordingly. That’s the beauty of the legal field.”
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney? What drew you to this career?
Vargas-Calderón: Originally, I decided to go to law school because I wanted to study something else besides my bachelor’s degree. I don’t have any family members that are lawyers, so I really didn’t know what I was getting into. Once I started law school and I visited a courtroom for the first time I knew this was the right career for me. I could just feel it in my gut that I was in the right place.
AALM: Do you have any mentors or professors that encouraged you along the way? What is the best lesson they taught you?
Vargas-Calderón: Yes. I had many professors that I greatly admired, but I had a great mentor that I will never forget. My first law related job was as a law clerk for a boutique law firm in Puerto Rico called Luis Martinez-Llorens Law Office PLLC. Mr. Martinez is literally a book and taught me more than I could ever learn in all my years of law school. I will always remember his willingness to coach me and teach me all the tips and tricks he had learned all through his career. That is something seldomly offered as part of a job experience nowadays, but the most valued from the employee’s perspective.
When I think about lessons, cost-effectiveness is one of the many things that come to my mind. Being effective is one of the best qualities an attorney can have. Your clients want results and they want results now. So, you need to know what you’re doing and how much money and hours it is going to take you, so you can evaluate it against the risks of executing any given task and compare different approaches and options on the case. This lesson is very valuable in all aspects of the law practice, not only when you’re billing the client for your day to day tasks, but also for when you’re making the big deal decisions and assess the real value and risks of a case.
AALM: What experiences have taught you the most?
Vargas-Calderón: Nothing will ever teach me more than motherhood. I’m a firm believer of leading by example, so as a mother I have learned to be courageous and to believe in myself, so my kids can be inspired to be so when they grow up. I apply those values every day in my law practice. It doesn’t matter how much you study or how much you prepare for a case, they can take unexpected turns and make our careers very challenging, not only intellectually but also emotionally. Courage and self-confidence are very valuable assets in my practice.
AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about your practice?
Vargas-Calderón: This one is easy.
Being an immigration attorney has uncovered a whole new legal area for me. I finally can connect to my clients personally, I know their history, I know where they are coming from and where they want to go, I meet their families, and working hard with them I am able to help them achieve their dreams. In my professional life, I have never had a job as rewarding as my immigration law practice. When you help immigrants through their path and to finally achieve their objectives, be it asylum, a green card, citizenship, etc., and they say things like ‘you have been the answer to our prayers’, you just know that all this commitment and sacrifice is more than worth it … it really feels as if you’re changing, and sometimes saving, someone else’s life.
My biggest reward is knowing that my clients are really thankful for all the work I put in every day. The clients I work for are the absolute best! They are the type of people that give you a hug of gratefulness out of nowhere, they show up at the office and bring me lunch, they trust me and that is what really matters to me.
AALM: What do you find particularly challenging about your practice? How to you overcome these challenges?
Vargas-Calderón: The biggest challenge is to work at a level that I can fulfill the clients’ expectations. Most clients are ill informed about the legal process and what the different approaches to a case should be. They have talked to friends, family members, and even seen unrealistic advertisements of other “successful legal stories.” When I sit with my clients, I like to be very up-front with them and explain all the possible outcomes in their case. I like to bring in a sense of reality with their specific facts and explain to them that all cases are different. Then, we set our goals in the case and I let them know that I will work my best to achieve that goal.
AALM: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Hobbies? Sports?
Vargas-Calderón: I love my family life with my kids and my husband. We are a very active family and enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities. We go biking, camping and practice different sports. I particularly enjoy practicing yoga and go out paddle boarding now and then. You can also find me zoning out to any of John Grisham’s books while the kids are out playing.
AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in the future? Where do you see yourself in five years? In 10?
Vargas-Calderón: As a solo practitioner I am hoping to grow not only as a firm but also as an attorney with all the new experiences that this new adventure is bringing in. I have started to develop a marketing strategy to build a stronger personal injury caseload. Personal injury was my main practice area when I started practicing law and up until I discovered immigration law. While I’m passionate about immigration and will continue to put all my effort into defending the rights of immigrants, I will also focus in diversifying my practice and taking in more personal injury cases.
AALM: What events are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
Vargas-Calderón: There’s nothing that I’m looking forward to more than our trip to Puerto Rico this Christmas. Puerto Ricans are well known for having the best Christmas celebrations and I can give you my word on that.
We haven’t been in our island for almost two years. Last year we had already planned our vacations but unfortunately had to cancel them due to the situation that Puerto Rico was in after Hurricane Maria. This year, we’re already excited and looking forward to seeing all our family again.
A CALLING IN PORT ARANSAS
Coming from an island located in the middle of every single hurricane projected trajectory, my family and I can understand all the preparation and anxiety that goes with hurricane season. As we watched the news and saw the destruction after Hurricane Harvey last year, we knew we had to do something.
I immediately started making calls and in one day I found a babysitter for our kids, had our van full of donations and drove down to Port Aransas with my husband to volunteer in whatever was needed down there. I can tell you today, it was one of the best and most rewarding opportunities I have ever had. You think you’re helping other people but, in reality, you’re the one receiving the blessings by being able to serve.
A couple of weeks later, it hit us even closer. Our little island experienced tremendous loss due to Hurricane Maria. Once again, with our hearts shattered as we were here in San Antonio with no communication with our loved ones and no idea of how we could help being so many miles away, I felt that urge and started picking up donations from around the city and created my own fundraiser.
We managed to fill up our van again and send a lot of emergency items to the island.
This ‘calling’ as you might call it has given me the opportunity to teach our children about civil responsibility and most of all, about compassion.