Wearing many different hats—lawyer, mom, board member, business owner, and community leader—is Raquel Salas’ signature. The 2006 Women Lawyers Association of Michigan Foundation (WLAM Foundation) Ford Motor Fund Scholarship winner has taken the Western Michigan legal community by storm since graduating from Michigan State University College of Law in December 2006. After starting her career as an associate at Warner Norcross practicing corporate and family law, she started her own practice four years later. Raquel and her partners acquired another firm, which they rebranded as the Avanti Law Group, because she saw an unaddressed need for affordable legal services and wanted to do her part to fill the void.
Raquel is a testament that one can balance the demands of a law degree with those of being an involved parent and an active voice in the community. Her rapidly expanding practice focuses on assisting small businesses and start-up companies in the areas of family, business, and criminal law, particularly white collar crime cases. She was not expecting the firm to grow so fast—from 3 attorneys in 2010 to 9 attorneys in 2013, with 7 nationalities represented in the office—but she is pleased that the firm was able to accommodate clients’ legal needs while also accommodating the firm’s growth. As a bonus, she enjoys autonomy over her case load, clients, and schedule. Her ten-year-old daughter sometimes accompanies her to work, where her daughter has a laptop in Raquel’s office. Raquel does not hesitate to share the flexibility that she enjoys as a partner with associates and other employees who are welcome to bring their children to work as well, helping all members of the team to accommodate the demands of family and career.
Her advice to other women who are considering starting their own law practice is to remain involved in the community. By being engaged, “people not only know of you, but they know and trust you.” Raquel has certainly heeded her own advice. She joined her first non-profit board only months after law school graduation. She has served on the Boards of Directors of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and First Tee of West Michigan, and currently is a new Board member at the Sacred Heart of Jesus School. Raquel has many speaking engagements in Grand Rapids and Mexico but most enjoys speaking to students, especially those who are immigrants or non-native English speakers like herself. She lets the students know that “It is easy to get distracted, especially if you do not fit a certain profile, but it is o.k. to be different.” Raquel shares stories of her triumphs telling them that “If you do your work, things will work out. You will see the results.” Raquel has definitely seen the results as her personal and corporate community service initiatives have been widely recognized. In 2012, the Grand Rapids Business Journal named her one of Western Michigan’s 50 Most Influential Women. Community engagement is good for her business as well. Among many honors and awards, her firm has been named as the #1 Women Owned Law Firm by the Grand Rapids Business Journal for the last 2 years as well as the 2012 Hispanic Business of the Year by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
As a business owner, Raquel knows that every dollar counts. She applied that same philosophy to her legal education, financing law school with loans and every scholarship for which she was eligible, including the WLAM Foundation Ford Motor Fund Scholarship. Of the impact that the WLAM Foundation Scholarship has had on her career, Raquel mentioned that the scholarship helped to reduce her student loan debt, which has allowed her the financial freedom to do the work about which she is passionate.