“You can always tell who the strong women are. They are the ones you see building
each other up, instead of tearing each other down.” – Anonymous
Aliette DelPozo Rodz, a longtime litigation partner at Shutts & Bowen LLP, and chair of the focus on women group, the diversity committee and the Cuba task force, was part of the team that successfully recruited Miranda Lundeen Soto and Angela de Cespedes to Shutts as litigation partners.
While their journey to Shutts & Bowen LLP may have been different, each of these women were driven by a desire to elevate their careers to new levels. They believe in the notion that empowered women, empower other women. Their goal is to continue to break the mold, to eliminate gender bias, to work together alongside of their colleagues and clients in order to recognize and honor excellence in the legal profession regardless of what it looks like. “We are not threatened by each other’s successes, we are inspired by them,” Rodz says.
Miranda Lundeen Soto: The Power of One
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
Soto: Without question, becoming board certified in civil trials was one of my proudest professional moments. In Florida, there are approximately 1,000 lawyers who are board certified in civil trials. Of the 1,000 lawyers, there are approximately 60 women lawyers.
AALM: What do you find rewarding about being an attorney? What do you finding challenging about your practice and how do you overcome those challenges?
Soto: I truly enjoy mentoring younger lawyers and learning from them in the process, but unfortunately mentoring can be time consuming. I find that time management is incredibly challenging especially in a profession where every minute counts. One of the things I have in my office is a large, framed sign that reads 1440. I got this from Kevin Kruse’s book, “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management.” It’s a constant reminder to me and anyone that stops by my office that you only 1,440 minutes in each day, so it’s imperative to make every minute count!
AALM: What case most defined or redefined your practice?
Soto: In 2011, a lawyer in California that I met at a conference recommended me to Shell Oil to interview for a special trial counsel position for one of the largest franchisee/franchisor cases in the history of Shell Oil. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Angela and Aliette were both invited to interview for the same position. As it turns out, Angela had a conflict with the trial period. Shell Oil could not decide between Aliette and I, so Shell Oil hired us both. Aliette and I worked tirelessly on the case for eight months before it settled in pretrial motions. After the case settled, Aliette recommended me to a client to handle a large, legal malpractice trial. Altria (Philip Morris) sent a representative to evaluate me during the legal malpractice trial and I was ultimately approved to try tobacco cases. From the Shell Oil case, I ended up trying six Engle tobacco trials and two legal malpractice cases in four years!
I call this “the power of one.” Never underestimate the power of one simple act of kindness. One recommendation can change the entire trajectory of a person’s career.
AALM: How do you personally try to help women following in your career path?
Soto: Earlier this year before I made the move to Shutts, I was honored to be the recipient of the Dade County Bar Association’s Women of Distinction Legal Maverick Award. In what would turn out to be a very prophetic set of circumstances, the award was presented to me by my now colleague and partner Angela de Cespedes. I sat in the audience along with several hundred South Florida lawyers and judges and listened to Angela speak about my achievements and how inspired she was by all I had been able to achieve thus far (alongside my youngest daughter who had secretly requested she be allowed to be on stage and say a couple words as well), it was never more clear to me that having role models and people you respect around you is critical to achieving success in all aspects of life. Other women, other lawyers, students, and young girls like my daughter are all watching what my colleagues and I do, even when we are not consciously aware of it – they are following our examples.
AALM: How are you involved in the legal community and the local community?
Soto: I am an active member of the Miami chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates; the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel; the board of directors for the Dade County Bar Association; the board of counselors for Drake Law School; and a grievance committee member for the Florida Bar.
Aliette Delpozo Rodz: You Can Do It All
AALM: What do you find rewarding about being an attorney? What do you find challenging about your practice? How do you overcome those challenges?
Rodz: There is nothing that I love more than the thrill of winning for my clients and achieving what they came to me to deliver. The challenge is usually complicated and we traverse many paths to reach our goal, but I thrive on that journey. I overcome the obstacles and challenges of these complex business matters by never losing sight of the goals, thinking outside the proverbial “box” and never allowing my focus to derail from my clients’ goals.
AALM: Did you have any mentors or professors who helped you develop your career?
Rodz: Harold “Ed” Patricoff, a seasoned attorney at Shutts, has been an instrumental mentor in my legal career. From the day I started at Shutts 17 years ago, he treated me as an equal and allowed me to learn his business savvy and creative thinking for the benefit of our clients in complex legal business matters. He exuded the confidence required to achieve success. He taught me the importance of mentoring and valuing good talent. I saw firsthand the impact that this may have on a person and this instilled in me the desire to pay it forward and mentor my younger peers when given the opportunity to do so.
AALM: What first drew you to your firm? Tell us about your role there.
Rodz: Shutts is a great firm with excellent lawyers who value and respect each other and work as a team for the betterment of their clients and our continued personal growth. I have grown as a lawyer alongside Shutts. I have seen it steadily expand its portfolio into all areas of the law by selectively hiring talented laterals. We value integrity, character and the true passion for the practice of law.
I am one of the pioneers of the firm’s focus on women group and I chair the firm’s diversity committee. These are my passions. It is important to see our firm grow with our diverse communities, especially living in Miami where we have such a diverse culture and client base. I aim to keep us current and to ensure that we appease to the millennials, and to all attorneys of all backgrounds because we are diverse and extremely proud of our evolution.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
Rodz: I became the first Cuban American woman to become a shareholder at Shutts in 2010 at the age of 36. I have worked very hard to build my practice and create a reputation of a tenacious litigator who problem solves and listens to her clients and her peers. The road here has not been easy, but it has been so worthwhile.
I am most proud of this accomplishment because it opened doors for many women after me. I had a young, talented legal assistant who left her job to go to law school and become a lawyer. When I asked her what motivated her to do this, she informed me that she did so because of me. I had showed her that you can be a great attorney, and a great mother, wife and woman. You can do it all. I was so humbled and so proud to see I had made a difference.
AALM: What traits do you think make an attorney exceptional? What’s the difference between a good attorney and an outstanding one?
Rodz: The difference between good and great is something that I try, together with my husband, to instill in my own boys every day. We live by the model – “Good is not great!” An exceptional attorney takes the matter at hand as her own and looks for creative ways to resolve it 24/7. I do not take “no” for an answer. I see myself as my clients’ partner. I learn my client’s needs and goals and I acquire them as my own. You can never be too prepared. When you stop seeking to better yourself, you stunt your professional and personal growth and the potential success of your clients. The passion and focus must emanate from you at all times.
Angela De Cespedes: A Legal Wonder Woman
AALM: When did you decide to become a lawyer and why?
de Cespedes: From a very early age I was somewhat obsessed with books such as “To Kill A Mockingbird” and reruns of “Matlock” and “Perry Mason,” and then later “Law & Order.” I don’t remember a time when I wanted to be anything but a litigator. The concept of seeking truth and justice within the framework of our legal system always appealed to me.
I still remember how awestruck I was the first time I traveled to Washington, D.C. and visited the U.S. Supreme Court. Years later, I remember making a bumbling fool of myself as a result of my excitement in meeting one of my role models, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The experience of arguing in a courtroom continues to inspire that same childlike awestruck feeling in me, so I know I am exactly where I should be.
AALM: What do you find rewarding about being an attorney?
de Cespedes: It is said that every story has two sides, and somewhere in the middle lays the truth. In my practice, I frequently come across parties who feel the need to exaggerate or fabricate elements of their damage claim. I have a knack for sniffing out fraud, and have become proficient at analyzing human behavior, deciphering motivations, and applying commonsense. The legal system was never intended to serve as a mechanism for extorting corporate defendants. In many of my cases, there comes a moment when I discover evidence that belies the claims alleged against my clients, a moment where the diligence of my investigation and discovery proves itself to bolster my defense theories. It is those moments, when I know I have the ammunition to defend my clients that I find most rewarding.
AALM: Did you have any mentors who helped you develop your career?
de Cespedes: Interestingly, the mentor who has had the biggest impact on my career is male – Michael Fertig, my former partner at my previous firm. I worked alongside him for 14 years. His guidance and unwavering support through the years helped make me the lawyer I am today. While almost 20 years my senior and an extremely talented and accomplished litigator in his own right, he always treated me like his equal. He took every opportunity to teach, mentor, provide guidance, and cultivate my confidence, while giving me the freedom to demonstrate my unique talents in full display of our clients. His example instilled in me the importance of being and having good mentors.
AALM: What traits do you think make an attorney exceptional?
de Cespedes: It is my instinct to protect my clients, to anticipate worst case scenarios and do everything I can to avoid or minimize them. I am a problem solver, a fixer, a crisis manager. I think of my clients as “we,” and provide them with the confidence of knowing that my first priority is to assist them in resolving whatever issues they are facing in the most efficient manner possible. I am passionate, creative and goal oriented in this regard. The ability to convey and execute these principles in a manner which leaves my clients confident that I am on their team and will do everything in my power to resolve their issues. I think that is what separates a good attorney from an outstanding one.
AALM: What is your favorite quote?
de Cespedes: My favorite quote is by Madeline Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” But why don’t women help other women? I believe that primitive male and female societal roles are still prevalent today, in part. The origin of the human species dates back 300,000 years and modern society as we know it today has arguably only existed for a couple hundred years, which leaves approximately 99% of our evolutionary biology behind us. Primitive men, as hunters, joined forces with other strong men to hunt and capture larger prey as a group. Primitive women were (and modern women still are in large part) the primary point person for household and child rearing related endeavors. When viewed in this light, the introduction of another strong woman into that environment would be viewed as a threat – and instinctually the primitive woman would seek to eliminate the competition. While we have come a long way in a very short time, comparatively speaking, the realities of our current corporate setting, require women to shed these primitive notions and recognize the necessity to join forces with other strong women to succeed.