Community Is the Heart of This Icon’s Business

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Photo by Tar Macias/Hola Iowa
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By Lily Allen-Dueñas, Hola Iowa

Sonia Parras Konrad, a Des Moines attorney, is more than just a legal practitioner— she is a force to be reckoned with. For more than two decades, Sonia has fought legal battles for immigrant communities across Iowa. While her name has graced numerous articles predominantly focusing on immigration, domestic violence, and the law, Sonia’s journey encompasses far more than legal expertise. She has transformed her one-person operation into a thriving law firm in Des Moines, with a satellite location in Storm Lake. Sonia now has a staff of ten and the fortune of having more work than she can handle. 

In our interview with Sonia, she shares invaluable insights into how she grew her business, shedding light on her growth, challenges, and supporting and empowering her team. 

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Q: Financing can be a significant challenge for entrepreneurs. How did you manage financing?

“I worked in the nonprofit sector for 18 years. [After] I took on more than 200 pro-bono immigration cases after the largest raid in U.S. history, people started to call. It was very organic.  I rented a room for $300. I had one computer and one desk. I set up a phone line and people started to call. I didn’t have to take on loans or get into debt. 

What I did with the first money I earned was hire a CPA. I didn’t know about finances and the biggest problem a new business can face is not being financially savvy. I used that first paycheck to pay for a bookkeeper/CPA.”

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Q: Can you share how you transitioned from a one-person operation to a large law firm with multiple employees? What were some of the challenges or growing pains you encountered?

“I’ve been a lawyer for 25 years. Since 2019, I’ve been doing a pilot program with the Mexican government where they provide a grant and I do low fee work for them so that the client doesn’t pay.

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I try to be modest because I am so lucky. I have so much support from my community. I can’t complain about growing pains, but the biggest one was the increased workload and the demand for my services. When you work 80 hours [a week] you realize either you need to stop taking work or you get help. So, I got help. I love creating a team and building it from the ground up. I recruited people that had that mindset of “giving and taking.” Yes, we are here for the paycheck, but we are also here to support and give back. 

Another growing pain is staffing challenges. 90% of my staff are women. Sometimes they outgrow me and that’s okay. I’ve had employees with me for one year and some for 12 years. I have had to learn how to be very clear on employee policies. Give them a policy book and have an internal manual on office functioning. 

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When you grow as a business, communication can break down. I know that some people don’t see the value of staff meetings, but take them as an opportunity to strengthen your team. Ask them to have a say in the business, what can be improved, and how things are going. Identify problems or challenges and together come up with ideas for how to fix them. That is better than just being the boss and giving an order. 

Also, quality control is very important. We spend a lot of time training in our office. The more I train, the more free I am to improve other areas of the business. I train my employees so well they open their own law offices and I truly celebrate that. It’s great! If you don’t train your employees well, then everyone suffers.”

Q: How do you support and empower employees within your firm?

“Everybody will tell you that it’s the team’s office and not just Sonia’s office. So, it’s not your typical office. First off, our office doesn’t have walls. It’s open. Everyone is accountable to each other. It creates a sense of belonging. Also, we do a lot of activities that aren’t work-related during working hours. People say I’m losing money, but that’s an investment. You are investing in your people. We have a fun committee at the office that is formed by the youngest members of the office. They have a budget and come up with proposals. We do an activity once a month like a painting class, dancing lessons, or going to a movie. Training and developing your staff and giving them a break to be human is crucial. Create a positive work environment.”

Q: What are your plans for future growth and expansion of your firm?

“I plan to retire leaving behind the next generation of people who are going to continue to do the amazing work we do in our office. I will continue to bring on associates who can do the work better than me, and then I will fade away.”

Q: What advice would you offer the next generation of entrepreneurs?

 “You are nothing without your team. Your bosses are your legal assistant, receptionist, and your accountant. Also, I remind them that I am privileged to have an education that I can use, and I need to acknowledge my power and privilege constantly. That doesn’t make me more important than anyone else.

Network with your community. Attend local networking events and join professional organizations locally. Participate on boards if you can. Have a presence in the community and build relationships. It’s been the key for my growth. Invest in continuing education, analyze your performance, and take on speaking engagements. Be a mentor and also seek mentorship and guidance.

Provide excellent client service. In our community, word of mouth is very important. If you listen to your clients and are constantly innovating, improving, and making sure that your service is available and accessible, then that encourages loyalty and referrals. I take this very seriously. I have many clients, but my clients only have one lawyer – me! I have to try to exceed their expectations at every turn. 

Don’t forget to celebrate! When you finish, don’t just say, “Next!” Stay in the moment and celebrate. We take pictures.

I always have my clients tell me something that I did well and one thing that I can improve on. I take what they say very seriously.

Give back every step of the way to your circle and your community. It’s taking and giving. You have to have a balance.”

JEFAS Magazine is a collaboration of writers, photographers, social media managers, editors, translators, and designers from across Illinois, Iowa and the Midwest – all of whom are Latinx. It is the first magazine created by the Latinx community, for the Latinx community that focuses on how they are boosting the economy, giving back, and filling the gap between what is needed and what is available in the state. 

To see the locations where you can find the magazine visit @JEFASMagazine on Instagram and TikTok

You can find the digital magazine here:

https://holaamericanews.com/jefas-latinas-in-business-magazine-may-2024/

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