Miami Law Alumna Combines Business and the Law as COO of TotalBank


Lyan Fernandez, BA '75, JD '79, moved to the United States from Cuba at the age of seven. She was fortunate to have a father who picked himself up and started a business, instilling in his children the importance of education and hard work. "I came from a family of entrepreneurs," said Fernandez, now the Chief Operating Officer for TotalBank. "There was never any question in my family about [the value of] education."

Although Fernandez majored in English and French as an undergraduate at the University of Miami and considered a career in academia, she took a business law course that shifted her thinking. "I changed direction right then and there," she recalled.

Fernandez took a wide range of classes while at the Law School, but she expected to work in the field of international law. "You usually end up doing something else," she admitted. She spoke fondly of the late Professor Richard Hausler and Dean Soia Mentschikoff and the influence they had on students. "Who could ever forget Professor Hausler?" she asked. "He was probably instrumental in forging the careers of many of the students who went to Miami. Then there was Soia. She mesmerized the student body with her knowledge and poise and her reputation."

After law school, Fernandez worked as a research aide on the Third District Court of Appeals and then went to work for United States District Judge Edward B. Davis. "That was one of the best jobs I ever had," she said. Her work in the courts exposed her to litigation, and she spent a number of years working at firms as a commercial litigator. Eventually, Fernandez decided to go into practice with her husband, J. Rafael Rodriguez, a criminal defense attorney. "At some point, it became more manageable to leave a big firm," she explained.

As a mother to four children, Fernandez knows a lot about juggling work and family. "You make choices along the way," she said. After spending a few years in practice with her husband, Fernandez went in-house with Ready State Bank. She then worked at Republic National Bank of Miami before moving over to TotalBank. Both litigator and real estate lawyer, Fernandez is responsible for the bank's operations and risk management. She doesn't get bored. "That is the best part of this job," she admitted. "I still wake up in the morning every day looking forward to whatever the day brings."

Fernandez somehow manages to find time to devote to professional and civic organizations in the community and to the University of Miami. She is president-elect of CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women of Miami), and she volunteers regularly for Habitat for Humanity and Hands on Miami. She has also served on the University of Miami Law Alumni Association Board. Her choices have worked for her, and she is content with the path she has chosen. "You have to know what's important in life," she said.