Updated: Mar 8, 2021
An interview with criminal and immigration lawyer Lourdes Casanova by Elizabeth Harris.
Lourdes Casanova is a criminal defense and immigration lawyer who founded her own law firm in Palm Beach County, Florida. Within her primary areas of criminal defense, traffic law, and immigration, Lourdes handles some unique cases, including fish and wildlife citations, food and restaurant violations, and even crime victim representation.
We were fortunate to be able to speak with Lourdes about her career, community, family, and our legal rights.
Lourdes, you cover a lot of different cases in your firm. Can you tell us about how you became a lawyer and started your firm?
I knew I wanted to be a lawyer at an early age. I can’t remember the exact moment that I decided my career path, but I do recall a school assignment in my 7th grade English class that asked what my future goals were. I was 12 years old at the time. My three goals were: (1) go to college, (2) become a lawyer, and (3) meet the Backstreet Boys. I’m still working on the third goal!
I was always interested in criminal law, probably because I watched America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries as a kid. I developed an interest in immigration law later on, as I grew older and began to understand everything that my family went through to get to this country and achieve legal status. With these two areas of law in mind, I took classes in law school that prepared me to become a criminal and immigration lawyer.
My legal career began as a prosecutor at the State Attorney’s Office, where I fulfilled my dream of conducting jury trials on a regular basis. After a few years, I decided to transition to the private sector so I could practice more than one area of law and have a greater say in my own cases. In 2015, I founded Casanova Law.
You do more than the typical criminal defense and traffic cases. What are some of the more unusual or surprising types of cases that you do as well?
Over the years, I have really gotten into environmental and public health cases. This includes the defense of fish and wildlife violations, littering, and food violations in markets and restaurants. In these situations, I am usually able to save small business owners from shutting down, while also helping them get in compliance with the laws to protect the public. It is a win-win when I can protect my clients’ rights while also contributing to the greater good.
In starting your own law firm, how was that? How has that been during the pandemic?
A little-known fact is that I started my law firm after I was laid-off from a small firm that could no longer afford an associate. Even though I had contemplated starting my own firm in the long-run, my opportunity came sooner than expected and under less-than-desirable circumstances. Suffice it to say, it was not easy to get up and running without notice or preparation. On the other hand, there was no greater motivator to succeed than having just experienced failure. I incorporated the day after I lost my job, hustled to advertise and network, and built a thriving law firm from the ground up. It was the best move I ever made.
I have the same survival mentality now as I did when I started. This has helped me greatly during the pandemic, where economic and health uncertainties have heightened. I just keep giving it my all, focus on helping people, and continue to look forward. So far, I am fortunate to still have clients who prioritize legal representation despite their own financial and medical challenges. I am grateful for this and am more determined than ever to succeed for my clients.
You spoke about how coming from an immigrant family from Cuba has been a prominent influence. How has it influenced your law practice and your engagement with your local Latin community?
My family left everything they knew for the promise of freedom and a better life in the United States. I was only able to achieve the American dream because of the incredible and unimaginable sacrifices made by them. My gratitude has instilled in me a desire to help others achieve the same dream.
The physical and emotional journey to legal status is personal to me. I helped my family members study for their citizenship tests. I witnessed them struggling with lengthy paperwork, grasping the English language, and enduring intimidating immigration interviews.
This perspective not only drove me to practice immigration law but has also blessed me with an empathic platform to personally advocate for the undocumented through community organizations and events. Many of our undocumented immigrants in the U.S. come from Latin America - just like my family. For this reason, I stay involved in the local Hispanic community through volunteer work, educating the public, and coordinating charitable acts. My current leadership position as Corresponding Secretary of the Palm Beach County Hispanic Bar Association has allowed me to engage with the Hispanic community in a really meaningful way.
The legal profession is still predominantly white and male. As a woman and as a Latin woman, what has your experience been like?
I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by so many people who consider being a woman and being Latina an asset rather than a weakness. However, there have been a few moments in my legal career that remind me our society still has room for improvement.
One of those moments happened when I was a prosecutor and someone in the courtroom audience asked me if I was there because it was “take your daughter to work day.” Another time, a coworker made fun of my “Spanish” pronunciation of a word during the trial.
Now that I have my own business, my all-female staff gets calls from people asking to speak with “Mister” Casanova - assuming the attorney is male. Every once in a while, we also get questions regarding my racial and ethnic background before scheduling a consultation. My thought is, why does it matter?
Immigration is one of the big issues in the US. You’ve handled a lot of immigration cases, and you come from a family of immigrants. Based on your experience, what are some of the misconceptions of immigration?
Sadly, there are so many misconceptions about immigration that I can’t list them all in this interview. The biggest misconception seems to be that immigrants come here and “use our taxpayer dollars” to get on government assistance “and not work.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Immigrants - my family included - are the hardest-working people I know. Regarding government assistance, undocumented immigrants cannot legally receive public aid. Yet, despite their limited economic opportunity and many times their inability to get legal status, most undocumented immigrants pay taxes, file their tax returns yearly, work hard, and abide by our laws.
Another big misconception deals with the term “anchor baby.” Some people believe that immigrants can achieve legal status easily by traveling here and having their children born in the USA. There is no such form of “easy” and “fast” immigration relief. In fact, children can only petition for their parents when they turn 21.
How can we protect our rights? And how can we work with a lawyer to do so?
Protecting your rights starts with knowing your rights. Learn about the law by getting information from trusted sources. These include lawyers, nonprofit civil liberties organizations, and self-help legal books in the library.
If you hire a lawyer for a criminal or immigration case, trust and cooperation are key. Your lawyer will need as much information as possible about you and your case in order to optimize your representation. Ideally, your lawyer will serve not only as the protector of your rights, but also a reliable source of knowledge that can help you protect yourself.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in pursuing a legal career?
Choose a path that harmonizes with your core beliefs. There are many lawyers out there, but the ones who practice law with a purpose will ultimately be the most successful. Potential clients can tell who is in it for the right reasons. Also, remember that success goes beyond money; job satisfaction, work-life balance, positive community influence, and giving back contribute to a fulfilling career.