By Walter Villa – Special to St. Thomas University
The bond between Martha L. Arias and Felipe Cabrera is exceptionally close.
Cabrera graduated from St. Thomas University’s Benjamin L. Crump College of Law this year.
Arias graduated from STU’s College of Law in 2002.
But it is more than just sharing the same alma mater. Arias and Cabrera are close for another reason … they are mother and son.
“We’re inseparable,” said Cabrera, the 25-year-old only child of a devoted single mom. “We have few if any arguments. We have always supported each other through all theups and downs of life.”
Arias is successful – in two countries.
At age 21, she graduated law school in her native Colombia. Two years later, she followed her then-husband to Miami, where Cabrera was born.
Since kindergarten, Cabrera would proudly proclaim that he would one day become a doctor – an anesthesiologist to be exact. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Florida with that intention, but he soon had a change of heart.
“He said, Mom, I never want to see the word biology again for the rest of my life,” said Arias, relaying the conversation. “I was really surprised he gave up that dream after just one year.”
Arias eventually understood, but she also gave her son some tough love.
She told him to find his passion. But she also said that he had already used up his one career change.
“If you want to do more than one change,” Arias told him, “You are on your own.”
Cabrera heeded the warning, switching his major to Finance and graduating on time in four years from the University of Miami.
“It was mostly chemistry that I didn’t like,” Cabrera said when asked why he divertedfrom the medicine career path. “I didn’t have a passion for it, but I like numbers and working with money, which is why I switched to Finance.”
While at UM, Cabrera took a business law class. That led him to applying and getting accepted to STU for law school with a specialization in taxation.
In August, Cabrera will head to Chicago, where he will start his LLM (Masters of Law) program at Northwestern University. He will attend Northwestern along with three friends who are also graduates of STU’s College of Law – Max Toubiana and Sara Toubiana – who are married — and Lindsay Dunkley.
STU Law is also where Cabrera met his girlfriend, Stephanie Mattig.
“I made a lot of great friends at St. Thomas University, and the professors all had an open-door policy,” said Cabrera, echoing what his mother has said about STU.
“My professors have prepared me well, and they were all very caring and quick to respond to any concerns or questions.”
Cabrera’s current path is a dream come true for Arias, who specializes in immigration law. She also runs her own law firm, Arias Villa PLLC.
Ironically, when she graduated from STU’s law school two decades ago, her intention was to become a taxation attorney.
There was just one major problem.
Her son was five years old when she began her search for employment, and all the jobs she was finding required attorneys to work from 8 a.m. and often past 10 p.m.
“When would I see my son?” she thought. “By the weekend, when I could see him, I would be too exhausted to interact.”
There had to be a better way, and Arias sought the counsel of one of her STU law-school professors, William H. Byrnes.
“Professor Byrnes had a deep voice,” Arias said. “He looked at me and said, Martha, you’re not going to find a job working 9 to 5 in taxation law. It doesn’t exist. He told me to apply to a small firm that handles family law.”
Arias took Byrnes’ advice and started working for an attorney in the Kendall area named William Sanchez, who at the time was a solo practitioner.
“(Sanchez) was a Christian, and he knew I had a son,” Arias said. “He didn’t want me working past 6 p.m.”
It was the perfect start to Arias’ legal career. She was able to drop her son off at Westminster Christian School and pick him up at her mother’s house after work. Arias would then cook dinner and enjoy quality time with her son.
“Our legal profession is intense and hectic,” said Arias, who conducted this phone interview while doing leg exercises at her local gym. “Lots of lawyers tend to suffer from addiction, depression, and other issues. Sometimes they are just grouchy. They are stressed out and unhappy.
“If we don’t take the time to balance ourselves, it can be dangerous. Lawyers sometimes focus too much on money. I’ve learned that money comes when you are happy in your life, and you do your work in an ethical way.”
Speaking of happy, Arias is thrilled that her son plans to practice taxation law, which had been her original goal.
In fact, Cabrera said he can see a day – probably in about 10 years after initially getting experience elsewhere – in which he joins his mother’s law firm and expands it into new horizons.
“Life brings you rewards and dreams come true but sometimes in different ways than you imagined,” Arias said. “God put me in another path so that I was able to guide my son.
“Now, he will, in a way, fulfill my dream of becoming a taxation attorney. I feel like his is an extension of me.”