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Blissful Balance: General Counsel Makes a Difference in Her HometownCynthia Sanchez Escamilla loves being the general counsel for the University of the Incarnate Word because it has a mission to provide education for traditionally underserved populations. And, Escamilla notes that her job is a good match for both her family and her professional satisfaction.
Cynthia Sanchez Escamilla's family life has been the driving force behind her job choices.
"I feel it's kind of what's guided my career," says Escamilla, general counsel for the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) in San Antonio.
After graduating in 1990 from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, she worked as an associate for Callier & Garza in Houston, a civil trial and appellate firm. Escamilla says the job was a great experience, but she wanted a more routine work schedule four years later when she and her husband decided to start a family.
She joined Oppenheim & Associates in Houston, where she worked as senior associate staff counsel for the firm's one client: St. Paul Cos. (now St. Paul Travelers Insurance Cos.). It was an advantageous job for a lawyer planning to have a baby, she says.
"You may still work weekends and late nights, but the billing pressures and client-development pressures are not there. Our case load kept us very busy, but it was easier to have a work/life balance."
In 1996, with a 1-year-old daughter, Escamilla wanted to move to her home town, San Antonio.
"I wanted my daughter to grow up around her cousins and family," says Escamilla, who is a San Antonio native and one of seven children.
When she was growing up, her father owned Frank's Grocery and Market and taught night school, and her mom worked at a credit union. Escamilla says she went to law school because she had a degree in advertising from UT-Austin, and law school sounded more interesting.
St. Paul opened a San Antonio office, where Escamilla handled the company's litigation in San Antonio and South Texas. She was driving to various cities, such as Austin, Houston and Corpus Christi, to handle cases. She also gave birth to a second child.
In 2001 Escamilla became pregnant with a third child. "It was a surprise blessing, but I realized this travel, with a 5-year-old, 2-year-old and a new child, was not the life/work balance that I needed and my family needed," she says.
At that time, GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Co.) wanted to open up a staff counsel office in San Antonio, and Escamilla agreed to open the Law Office of Cynthia S. Escamilla and work exclusively for GEICO. Although there was no overnight travel with the job, the nature of litigation work, which could take her to different counties or different courts in the same county, was chaotic.
In 2003, in pursuit of a more predictable daily schedule, she went in-house with insurance company USAA in San Antonio as senior counsel.
"I loved it. It was a great position for the first in-house position," she says.
She handled litigation management, working with outside counsel. But in 2005 she was on the company's Hurricane Katrina team, which required spending a lot of time on the Mississippi coast, in New Orleans and other areas.
With children then than ranging in age from 4 to 10, she says, "I was just going crazy. It was just very difficult to get the balance again."
Escamilla says she didn't want to miss volleyball games, cheerleading competition or other events.
"There was a lot of stuff happening in the family, and I didn't want to miss any of it," she says. "My husband could handle it, but I felt, 'I've got to find a better balance here for us.' "
She learned that UIW was looking for a GC through other lawyers she met during monthly meetings of the San Antonio chapter of the American Corporate Counsel Association.
"I didn't appreciate what it means to work for a nonprofit until I got a job offer," she says. "The salaries are not what they are in the private sector, but you get a lot of meaning to what you're doing."
Escamilla says she loves working for the UIW because it has a mission to provide education for traditionally underserved populations.
"As an attorney it does make you feel like, 'Wow, I am making a difference. I am making a contribution.' That's one of the reasons this has been the perfect position," she says.
As a one-lawyer in-house department, Escamilla handles legal matters such as contract negotiations with the UIW's public and private partners for funding and development, compliance with U.S. Department of Education and National Collegiate Athletic Association regulations, as well as employment issues for the UIW's 1,000 full-time and 700 part-time employees.
As a growing university, UIW often has complicated real estate matters for which Escamilla turns to Shelley Morkovsky of the Morkovsky Law Firm in San Antonio.
"Cindy is an experienced attorney and knowledgeable about many areas of the law," Morkovsky says. "She's always very responsive to my calls or emails, and that makes me feel my questions are a priority for her."
Morkovsky says she recently assisted Escamilla with a sophisticated financial transaction for the UIW.
"She was there on every conference call and picking up on every step of the transaction," Morkovsky says.
Escamilla's background in litigation is helpful in employment matters, says Mario Barrera, a UIW outside counsel and a partner in Norton Rose Fulbright's San Antonio office.
"She has the understanding of how this thing [matter] will end up, not before a jury, but how we might be perceived by an arbitrator or panel of arbitration," Barrera says. "She likes to cut to the chase and point out issues instead of going on and on. She is succinct and to the point. She also cares about individuals. She wants to be sure that the right thing has always been done."
Escamilla notes that her job is a good match for both her family and her professional satisfaction. She says her family is entwined with the university. For instance, the UIW high school her daughter attends is just a short walk from the university; during the summers her children attend summer camps on campus.
"Here I am, going on seven years later," Escamilla says. "This has been the perfect fit for my family, and the perfect fit for me. I love what I do every day. I feel like I'm helping people and making a difference."