BABE #287: ANDREA REYES - Attorney + Founder, Reyes Legal, PLLC
Andrea is an attorney and founder of Reyes Legal, PLLC where she specializes in immigration law. A Colombian native and immigrant herself, Andrea intimately understands the level of humanity and trust it takes to handle such complex cases, and strives to always provide both for her clients. Since starting her business in the spare bedroom of her office as a one-woman show, Andrea has grown her small but mighty team of eight, and together they fight the good fight every day. It was during her last undergrad semester that Andrea decided to pursue immigration law, and it’s a good thing she did because her empathy, dedication and resiliency are helping so many who desperately need her services.
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: Florida State University
Degree: B.A., Psychology; B.A., Criminology
Very first job: Sales associate at a soccer store my father owned
Hustle: Attorney + Founder, Reyes Legal, PLLC
Babe you admire and why?
Annie Grogan. She is an unassuming leader in the Hispanic community who holds her truth tightly. She has a special way of bringing the community together.
How do you spend your free time?
I have very little free time, but when there is some down time, I love snuggling [my dog] Peanut, getting together with friends, going to the gym and doing fun races.
Favorite fictional female character? Why?
Detective Olivia Benson, from “Law & Order: SVU.” Her eyebrows are always on point and she is a highly dedicated detective, selflessly devoted to the purpose of her work, helping victims of horrendous traumas.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
Morning coffee: light, light cream with one brown sugar. Evening coffee: black with one brown sugar.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
What’s something you want to learn or master?
Time travel and Portuguese.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Tell us about your hustle.
As the founder and attorney at Reyes Legal, PLLC, I have three main roles: the entrepreneur — the visionary for the firm’s goals, the manager — who controls daily operations, and the marketer — who organizes content for social media.
What does your typical workday look like?
It depends on the day of the week, but it typically consists of client meetings, new consultations, staff meetings, project meetings, board meetings, community-engagement meetings and events, for which I wear the following hats: attorney, counselor, advocate, mediator, educator and listener.
When and why did you decide to pursue a career in law?
My last semester of undergraduate. My international human rights professor was also an immigration attorney. Who he was as an advocate and what he stood for as an attorney made me love everything about the field of law. He was an amazing mentor and a very selfless man. Once I graduated undergrad, I didn't go back to law school for another three years. When I did, it was with the sole goal of being an immigration attorney. I understood that working with immigrants required a certain humanity and level of trust, and I wanted to be able to provide that to my community. I started off in the spare bedroom of my apartment and over the last almost-five years we’ve been in business, did a total of four expansions to the office space. I started as a true solo and now we are a fantastic team of eight. Despite our growing pains, I never wanted to lose touch of our client focus. Through very detailed systems, we continue our client-oriented approach.
How does your community impact your work?
It’s all intertwined. Because we work with so many different demographics, the availability of resources will vary. As an immigration attorney, we sometimes become the lifeline for our clients. They will call about taxes, landlord tenant issues, health- and medical- related questions, workers’ compensation and employment problems, discrimination, unlawful arrests, etc. We can usually refer to some places, but there is a massive need to bridge the gap here in Northeast Florida.
How has being an immigrant impacted the way you approach your practice (and your career)?
When I was in kindergarten, and I had just arrived to the United States, an older kid by the name of J. Hancock pushed me and my sister off the school swingset. He said, “Get off my swingset, you spic!” And then he spit on me. I must have been 6 or 7 years old, but I will never forget the hate in his face. I remember what his hate made me feel, and it helps me connect with my clients who are often discriminated against, abused in their work settings and victims of fraud and crime.
What factors negatively impact immigration law?
Where do I even begin? An uneducated administration that doesn't understand our current immigration laws, that spreads falsehoods about the process to advance their agenda and that uses immigrants as pawns when the rest of their platform is failing. Aside from those negative factors, Congress does need to look at our immigration laws. The last immigration reform occurred 22 years ago (which actually made immigration laws harder). The one and only “amnesty” that took place was 32 years ago. There need to be updates and modifications. [People can help by] educating themselves and others. Share truthful information and call your congressmen and congresswomen. Participate in local events and show up for your immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters—and help defend an immigrant when you see they are experiencing an injustice.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
The lessons I learned in law school about the work ethic and humanity immigration required have been invaluable to me. It’s where I learned to hustle. I went to school full-time, had two jobs and did the immigration clinic. But, I really owe it to my mentor, because she inspired her students to be honest, present and transparent with the clients. Because I worked in several administrative positions in different law firms (both before and after law school), I was able to start my practice with a very admin-oriented mindset. It has been what has allowed me to grow my practice in such a short amount of time. In both law school and undergrad, I participated in different cultural and social organizations: The Colombian Student Association, Amnesty International, the Volunteer Immigrant Student Alliance, the Hispanic American Law Student Association and served as a translator at the FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. I guess I’ve been in training for a while!
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Well, I’ve been called Mr. Reyes more times than I would like to admit. Walking into my own conference room and being met with a, “Where is Mr. Reyes, the attorney?” has also been interesting (for lack of a better word). I have also been mistaken as the interpreter. I work in a traditionally male profession and when I go to court, my opposing counsel tends to be more men than not. But these numbers are changing. The Jacksonville Women’s Lawyer Association just wrote a brilliant article about this. In it, they say: “As lawyers, women face multiple obstacles: stereotypes that they might be “too soft” to manage an aggressive negotiation or complex litigation; workplace sexual harassment; work-life balance; and a significant gender wage gap. According to a 2018 American Bar Association survey, female lawyers—women of color, in particular—tend to have less access to prime job assignments; do more office paperwork; and be mistaken for janitors or court administrators far more often than their male counterparts. In fact, more than 50 percent of women respondents said they had fallen victim to mistaken identity, with others assuming them to be court reporters or custodial staff.” [Editor’s note: This kick-ass article was written by our Babe, Virginia Chamlee. Give it a read!]
I would fall into that 50 percent. Running my own law firm has taken some of those obstacles out of the way for me, but as a business owner, I find that this creates a whole different set of obstacles.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
Last year was the 25th anniversary of Janet Reno’s appointment as the first woman to serve as Attorney General of the United States. There was a study that showed that as of this 25th anniversary, there are more than 400,000 women lawyers who make up just over one in three (38 percent) of the total number of lawyers. Ironically, men still earn higher than women. On the humanitarian side of immigration law, the ratio is significantly higher for women. However, in the business immigration side of the law, there is a much higher male ratio. The majority of my immigration contacts are women; I probably have one handful of males I call upon for help or feedback. I love that! I love that I have a powerful circle of intelligent women in my legal tribe.
Are you involved with any other side projects?
Community/civic engagement is very important to me. I am on the board of directors for a nonprofit [my colleagues and I] started in 2018 (more details will be released soon!). I am a board director for the Central Florida Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the chair for the chapter’s Practice Management Committee. I am on the board of directors for the Women’s March of Jacksonville chapter, and the co-chair of the Women’s March Immigration Committee. I am the secretary for the Duval Democratic Hispanic Caucus.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
Ericka Curran, my mentor and professor. My colleagues, Melissa Aguinaga, Denisse Ilabaca, Belkis Plata, Karen Winston, Rebecca Caballero, Ana Martinez and every working-mama attorney out there. I don’t know how they do it, but they are all wonder-women.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Be focused. Be consistent. Be humble. Reflect on your goals and what you’re doing to obtain them. Accept the lessons from the defeats, but get up and restructure. Don’t forget to stop and actually celebrate each accomplishment before you move on to the next one. Be grateful for each person who crosses your path, because they are part of the growth and the journey. And most importantly, have fun in the process—because time flies.
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