Navigating Legal Waters with a “Personal Touch”

Diane Hernandez recently celebrated a milestone: It’s been 10 years since the Florida attorney cofounded her law firm, Hernandez, Hicks and Valois, PA, with a close friend. When it first began, the practice primarily focused on workers’ compensation insurance defense. But, over the past decade, it added a liability department as well as a full-service title company, which Hernandez also cofounded and co-owns. Offering a “personal touch” is the concept on which her businesses are based, and one of the reasons she aspired to start her own firm about nine years after earning her law degree from the University of Miami. When she’s not strategizing, negotiating, litigating, or managing, Hernandez keeps her batteries charged by penning novels and teaching her three-year-old daughter, Sophia, that when it comes to life goals—professional or personal—the sky’s the limit.

"'Personal touch’ means I pick up my phone, not a receptionist. My clients have my cell-phone number. I am so accessible. I enjoy being connected. I don’t see it as burden, I see it as a privilege."
“‘Personal touch’ means I pick up my phone, not a receptionist. My clients have my cell-phone number. I am so accessible. I enjoy being connected. I don’t see it as burden, I see it as a privilege.”

I manage the Office of Legal Affairs. I knew I wanted to become an attorney at a young age because I saw a lot of unfairness in the world. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs who were not always treated fairly as employers and people. I realized being a lawyer would empower me and enable me to promote equality. I always liked to read and write and argue—and negotiate. Being a lawyer isn’t just about arguing, it’s the ability to see both sides of a situation, negotiate, and learn to compromise.

I always knew I wanted to have my own firm. I have my own way of doing things. I am very thorough and very fast. When I started to work for different firms, I didn’t think I was provided the resources I needed to provide clients the care and attention I wanted to give them.

My firm was started by myself one of my dear friends, Lisa Fernandes Hicks, and it is a family-owned business. Cristian Valois, my husband, joined the firm early on and now heads the liability department. Lisa’s father and brother also work with us. It’s one family, one team, and the glory goes to all of us when we do a great job. We always encourage each other.

The crux of our success is knowing when to diversify. We brought in people with the same passion and expanded to meet our clients’ needs. Now, we have a full-service firm and a title company. It didn’t come about immediately, but you have to plant the seeds. Things change, and if you’re not willing to change with the times, you will become extinct. You can’t be fearful of the future, you have to embrace it.

“Personal touch” means I pick up my phone, not a receptionist. My clients have my cell-phone number. I am so accessible. I enjoy being connected. I don’t see it as burden, I see it as a privilege. It’s about personal relationships. When you come to Hernandez, Hicks and Valois, you get Hernandez, Hicks, and Valois. Law firms are tough and cold and serious and we came along, the little guy. And people have come to see that the difference is what they like about us.

The most satisfying and the most challenging part of my job are both the same: It’s the people. My mom was a teacher and I love teaching my young associates. I put a lot of me into them. I want them to become good businesspeople. You can be a great lawyer, but without being a good businessperson, you won’t get any work. And I love to learn from them. I don’t care if they’re a first-year attorney, everyone has the potential for great ideas. I also love being able to go out with clients and chat and laugh and play horrible golf.

By the same token, it is a very personal industry. You know a lot of things people tell you in confidence. You have to cater to different clients and be mindful of their needs and what they want. I have to be a good listener in my job. It’s all about people brought to its simplest form. If you are authentic and are yourself and have integrity, it will work out. It’s all about getting along.