Education propels “Valley Kid” to legal career

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For attorney Sylvia Cardona, the idea to pursue her profession came in an envelope addressed to her father. “He got one of those class-action notices in the mail,” she remembers. “Having had little education and with Spanish as his first language, he asked me to review it. He had never run into anything legal before.” Still in high school, she called the 800 number listed and relayed the information to her father. “It piqued my interest in the law,” says Cardona, who grew up in Edinburg, a self-described “Valley kid.” During college at the University of Texas at San Antonio, she worked for a small firm of bankruptcy attorneys while studying political science. When she told one of her bosses she was planning to go to law school, he said, “Are you sure you want to do that? You’re so talented and smart; you’ll have so many opportunities.” Looking back, she smiles. “He meant well,” she says.

Most people in her life were supportive of her decision, however, so she went to law school at the University of Oklahoma, winning awards in national moot court competitions. After earning her J.D. degree from Oklahoma, she went on for an LL.M. — a master’s degree in law — from Georgetown University, concentrating in international and comparative law. Cardona stayed in Washington, D.C., to work for the World Bank for two years, writing chapters in a book for the agency’s inspection panel, then moved back to Texas. “I loved being in D.C., but for me it was a temporary stop,” she says. “I wanted to be closer to my family, who are still in the Valley.” She joined the firm of Langley & Banack in its San Antonio office and has worked on a variety of cases as a litigator, using her bilingual skills in cross-border business and developing a specialty in hospitality law. Through her work, she meets people from all walks of life — from “individuals faced with litigation for the first time to large companies where lawsuits are part of the cost of doing business.”

Although “There is some overlap” to her cases as she has gained experience, Cardona says that “All clients are different. Everyone has a story.” The challenge for her as their attorney is to “look at every single situation individually, to identify (the client’s) needs and goals.” The satisfaction comes “when a client is happy. In some instances, there’s no win-win solution, but we can mitigate the problem and resolve it in the best way we can.” To reach a good resolution, “It’s more economical to stay out of courts,” so she spends as much time as possible “trying to develop a case solution from the office.” Some of her cases tug at the heartstrings, such as one involving a mom-and-pop business with a case brought against them by a former friend. “It was something that never should have happened,” she said. Cardona worked with the couple until they accomplished a solution they could live with; when they no longer could afford to pay their legal fees, she worked pro bono to accomplish a resolution of their case. “They were appreciative of my work,” she said. “They brought me a dozen bagels and a handwritten thank-you note. It wasn’t a multimillion-dollar win — it was more of a principle win — but it was to them.”

Like many lawyers, she works long and irregular hours. It helps that she’s married to a fellow attorney, Marc Stroope, who works for a different firm in the same building as hers. “We didn’t meet in the elevator,” she says, smiling. “It wasn’t that romantic.” The couple met at a litigation law section meeting of the San Antonio Bar Association; after a courtship fit into two busy schedules, they married, and their son, Jake, was born last year. Working a few floors apart makes child care handoffs easier; Cardona has not had to cut back and had a good year at work during her first year of motherhood. Now a shareholder in the firm, she is focusing some of her attention on developing more business. “I have to think about rainmaking,” she says. “Like most lawyers, my goal is to have a solid book of business. Having clients who think of you as their go-to gal for legal issues is not only a huge honor, it helps solidify your future.” One of her favorite activities outside of the office has been the public speaking she has done in local schools. Her message to students at all levels is “Education, education, education.” If they’re struggling in school, she tells them, “Get help. Don’t be too proud to ask. There are people who are willing to help you, and the possibilities are endless if you try.

“My mom would say, ‘Do it con animo — with spirit.’ When you do something, if you can say ‘I did it with determination, with dedication, with conviction, then you have given as much as you can, and you can be proud of your work, whatever the outcome.”