Diana Mendez is not your run-of-the-mill attorney. As a partner in the Miami office of Shutts & Bowen LLP, Mendez is a member of the government law practice group where she represents clients through all phases of the government procurement process. This includes everything from identifying government contracting opportunities to bid protest litigation, and everything in between.
Her work is complex and serves not only individuals and companies, but the entire community by making opportunities more accessible to local businesses and individuals which in turn helps build a robust economy. Mendez stands out, not just because of her success and the outstanding service she provides, but also because she’s a female in an area of law that seems to embody very few of her gender.
Mendez found the inspiration to become an attorney from her family. Originally from Colombia, Mendez came to the United States when she was a teenager. Her parents were both actively involved in the Colombian government, with her mother being one of the first female attorneys in that country. Although, upon graduating college, Mendez originally paved a career in finance, following in her mother’s footsteps was never far from her mind.
“As a child, I loved hearing the stories about my mother’s work while serving in several government agencies, including as a lead attorney for the city of Bogota, Colombia’s capital,” she says, “I always admired her work and I think that being a lawyer had always been in the back of my mind.
“In college I took the LSAT, but then decided to work for a while before going to grad school,” Mendez continues. “I worked for a year in finance, and successfully took the National Commodities Futures Examination or Series 3 exam and then decided I wanted to do something that would allow me to see more directly the impact of my work on the community. That’s when I decided to go ahead and apply to law school.”
Attending law school in Washington, D.C., was a conscious choice because even at that point in her life Mendez knew she wanted to work with the government in some capacity and her experiences there had a profound effect on the young law student.
“I worked for a while with the Small Business Administration,” she says, “when I came back to Miami my experience with the SBA was key in being recruited by a prominent Miami boutique firm dedicated to government affairs.”
THE NUTS & BOLTS OF THE JOB
Mendez helps business sector clients navigate the legal and public policy landscape surrounding procurement opportunities. Her work focuses on identifying government contracting opportunities and counseling clients through the proposal preparation and contract negotiations process. Mendez has a thorough understanding of local laws and regulations that may impact the bottom line in a proposal. She can help clients understand the various small business and local business requirements in public contracts and the ethics, public records, and sunshine law requirements applicable to the procurement process.
Mendez is aware that her specialty, particularly for a woman, is quite unique, but then again, her skills, mindset and passion for her work, make her a perfect fit. The work involves as much interpersonal and community relationships as it does legal acumen, fortunately Mendez shines in both areas.
“I do two things,” she explains. “I help clients find and navigate government opportunities and then I advise them during the procurement process by reviewing their proposals to ensure they comply with the requirements of the government as well as assist them with any legal challenges that are common during government contracting opportunities.
“The first part of my job involves really understanding my client’s business and helping them sell their business,” she adds. “I advocate on their behalf as to why they are the best company for a government purchase. It’s very interesting as I’m able to really get to know the people and become knowledgeable about what they have to offer and become a strong advocate.”
What’s even more special about the work that Mendez does is where she concentrates her efforts, and that small detail means everything to her.
“This is my community,” she says with pride. “I know that I can make a positive impact on my own community when I advocate for fair procurement processes that lead to results that are in the best interest of the community. I see the results of my work when I’m out in town and can see the fruits of my labor through the good work that my clients do for the community.
“So, yes, you have to think as an attorney, but also as a businessperson and figure out what are the needs of the government,” she adds. “Understanding those needs and understanding how my clients meet those needs takes a special skillset that is different from a more traditional attorney who might focus on a single transaction or litigation.”
Mendez says her works requires “acquiring a deep knowledge of the client and building relationships that are based on honesty and trust.”
WORKING IN A MAN’S WORLD
Mendez is not shy about acknowledging the challenges she has faced both as a female and as a Latina. But she’s never allowed any barriers to stand in her way. Her advice to others in similar situations is born of years of experience and survival skills that have served her well.
“First of all, I always try to see things from a positive point of view and always identifying the best of a situation,” she says. “Most importantly I learned to advocate for myself. I’ve learned to be assertive about my needs and wants and communicating them in a way that is productive and effective. The best advice I can offer other women is to stop apologizing and don’t be afraid of self-promotion.”
Another asset to Mendez’s aplomb in her male-dominated world is lots of support. Mendez has built a strong support network of mentors and sponsors who have helped her pave her way to a successful career. As a working mom, she derives a lot of support from family and friends, but most of all her husband and son.
“I have a great partner, my husband and I both understand our roles as parents,” she says. “We really see each other as equal in our parenting roles and work as a team. For example, when our almost 3-year-old, Luka, was born I took maternity leave for three months, and when I went back to work my husband took paternity leave for almost another four months.
“My husband is a very hands-on dad and he’s also very supportive of my career,” she adds. “I feel very fortunate because I am truly able to have the best of both worlds – a career I enjoy and a wonderful, loving family who are always there for me.”