“Persistence prevails when all else fails”
This is one of Diana Santa Maria’s, J.D. ‘84, favorite quotes. As a mother of two who started her own law practice with a nine-month old and another child on the way, Santa Maria certainly exemplifies persistence. Before forming her own law firm in 1991, Santa Maria practiced with Sheldon J. Schlesinger, then one of the country's top personal injury law firms in the areas of plaintiff's personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death.
Diana Santa Maria, J.D. '84
Looking for more flexibility and a better work-life balance, Santa Maria started her firm out of an extra bedroom in her home. With each new successful case, the law firm expanded, eventually moving into an office suite and adding more employees. Today, Santa Maria leads the Law Offices of Diana Santa Maria, P.A. a successful personal injury and medical malpractice law firm that recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary.
Before achieving success in the legal field, Santa Maria attended Miami Law. She is a double ‘Cane, having previously studied English and Philosophy as an undergraduate. When asked what led her to continue her studies at UM, Santa Maria explained that the law school’s excellent reputation and a scholarship she was offered contributed to her decision.
During her time at Miami Law, Santa Maria wrote for the now-retired law school newspaper, Res Ipsa Loquitur. Additionally, she became involved with Moot Court, where she served on the board and participated both as a participant and a judge. One of her best memories includes arguing a case in front of the Florida Supreme Court, as part of the Robert Orseck Memorial Moot Court competition. “It was hard work but fun and rewarding,” she said.
One of those rewards was having her team walk away with the “Best Brief” award, an accomplishment she cherishes to this day. Through her participation in Moot Court and Mock Trial, Santa Maria learned the art of legal writing and written and oral advocacy. These are “skills I use to this day and which I am always striving to hone, improve and perfect,” she stated.
Of her law school classes, one in particular sticks out in Santa Maria’s mind. “I had the privilege of being in the late [Dean] Soia Mentschikoff’s Elements class during my first year,” she explains. “It was an honor to be a student in the Elements class which Soia formulated and taught using the textbook she authored: The Theory and Craft of American Law, a book I still have and treasure.”
After graduation, Santa Maria started working at the law office of Sheldon J. Schlesinger, P.A., a personal injury and medical malpractice firm. The late Mr. Schlesinger became a mentor to Santa Maria, which led her to develop a passion for that type of trial work she does today. When asked about why she enjoys this area of practice, she explained that it “allows [her] to help those who have suffered an injury or loss by seeking redress (or justice) for a wrong.” In the process, she “get[s] to know [her] clients on a personal level to appreciate their loss and become their voice when seeking justice on their behalf.”
When asked what traits make a great trial lawyer, Santa Maria listed “preparation and hard work, an unwavering commitment to a client’s case, and the ability to construct and tell a compelling story, through witnesses and evidence, while weaving a theme throughout.” In addition, it is no secret that trial lawyers deal with a lot of stress on the job. That is even more true for personal injury lawyers like Santa Maria, who have to find ways to handle the stress that comes with representing injured clients, many of whom are likely stressed themselves. “Remembering to stay in the moment, shut out distractions, making time for quiet reflection, and maintaining work/life balance” are some of the ways Santa Maria centers herself in her high-pressured profession.
When she isn’t at work, Santa Maria is giving back to the legal profession in one form or another. She is an author and lecturer on topics within her field and is presently writing a book on her experiences in the profession. She currently serves on the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors for the 17th circuit, is a Fellow with the Florida Justice Association, and is a past President of her local American Board of Trial Advocates chapter. Santa Maria has received numerous awards including the ABOTA (Ft. Lauderdale Chapter) Trial Lawyer of the Year, the Florida Justice Association’s Compassionate Gladiatrix Award, and for the past 10 years, has been listed among the Best Lawyers in America.
Recognizing a need for multi-cultural mediators, 10 years ago Santa Maria also became a Supreme Court certified mediator and formed a mediation company aptly called Bilingual Mediators, providing mediators who are bilingual in different languages, through which she serves as a mediator to facilitate the resolution of cases.
In all of this, Santa Maria continues to direct her philanthropic efforts to Miami Law. “My education at the University of Miami was a blessing in my life facilitating me to practice law, a profession that has been transformative. I believe that we all have an obligation to give back, however we can, to improve the plight of others and it is always better to give than to receive. For, as Francis of Assisi recognized ‘it is in giving that we receive.’”