Personal injury attorney Rosa Antunez has been described as soft-spoken and even quiet at times. In a social setting she may come across as somewhat reserved. Don’t be fooled. She is anything but when fighting for her clients. Or when negotiating with insurance companies to try to get the maximum that her clients potentially deserve.
Rosa learned to fight for what she wanted early in life when her family was abruptly uprooted from their upper class Honduras lifestyle to relocate to America under much different circumstances.
Some people may have given up when faced with the obstacles Rosa has faced. Not Rosa – it is part of what has made her a highly effective attorney and tenacious client advocate. It is what has given her a heart to serve others – to try to bring justice to her clients who have been wronged.
We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Rosa to talk about what led her from Honduras to North Carolina, and what led her to want to become an attorney after working as a paralegal for many years.
What drove you to become an attorney?
I had worked as a paralegal since 2005, and it was so rewarding because you are in the trenches with the clients daily. You are doing much of the research, dealing with the medical providers and insurance companies. And you are a sounding board for injured people who really need a shoulder to lean on, sometimes to cry on.
I have a B.A. in psychology, and I grew up in a home with a mother who was a psychologist. Psychology was my first love, and to some extent still is. I've always loved to work with and help people try to overcome their struggles. Having that psychology background, I felt I was more equipped professionally to help people through their issues – which is a lot of what many paralegals I know face every day.
The more I worked with the attorneys, the more I realized how much of a difference I could make as an attorney with my unique background as a paralegal with a degree in psychology.
Once I began to go through law school, I understood the dynamics of why an attorney would make certain decisions that didn’t seem to make sense to me as a paralegal. It all started coming together in law school. Those puzzle pieces I was piecing together as a paralegal came together to give me the bigger picture as an attorney.
One of my professors in law school once confided, "Maybe we can't personally go out and change the laws as an attorney, but the way we change the entire system is by being an advocate for the people." As you're doing that, as you're actively taking these cases and advocating for them, fighting for them, then you're changing the system one client at a time rather than letting the system take them over.
I feel this is especially the case for women and immigrants. I immigrated from Honduras as a teenage girl, and I understand firsthand how the system can derail your plans.
What brought you to America from Honduras?
I loved growing up in Honduras. We had a very happy family life. My father owned a candy factory and my mother was a psychologist and full-time mom and she ran other businesses. Like many upper class families in Central America, we had live-in maids, chauffeurs, bodyguards. I never had to do chores! Although we did go down to my father’s candy factory to “help” wrap the candies – meaning we would wrap one, eat one.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch tore through Honduras. It was one of the deadliest hurricanes in history and destroyed most the infrastructure of Honduras – the economy, and thousands of businesses. Within a couple of years, my father lost his candy factory as a result of the widespread economic struggles the hurricane set into motion, and we could not pay our bills.
I’ll never forget how my parents faced this life altering devastation. They knew they had lost everything. There was no choice for us but to pack up what little we had left and move to Florida near relatives to start a new life.
Life as we had known it was over.
My parents’ attitude was “this too shall pass.” That kind of strength was ingrained in me my entire life, but to see my parents live it in real time really had an effect on how I would live my life.
When we arrived in Florida, my formerly wealthy, highly educated parents cleaned houses to make ends meet. My father used to always do a little something extra for his candy customers in Honduras. My parents did the same when they cleaned houses in Florida. My father would leave flowers behind and my mother would engage with the customers. The customers appreciated the effort my parents gave and the caring they showed. Word of mouth spread and within just a couple of months, they were able to start their own cleaning business, which is very successful today.
Those are two things that have been engrained in me – never despair or give up, and always give that extra effort. And I definitely try to do that with my clients – even talking to people who call in and do not become clients. I often find myself offering them legal advice. Who knows, maybe they will need us one day for another legal matter.
How were things different for you in the U.S.?
Very different. I was a junior in high school when I first moved here. Fortunately I knew English, so I was able to graduate high school. But even though my parents had the money to send me to college, I was not legally allowed to attend college in the U.S. at that time because I was considered an “overstayed visitor.”
I took some classes, got married, moved to North Carolina, and eventually attended undergrad at UNC, which is where I got my psychology degree. I worked during college, so it took me twice as long to get my degree.
With a psychology degree, how did your path evolve to becoming a lawyer?
It was a tough road. Although it didn’t start out that way.
I got a full scholarship to law school. Then I became pregnant with my daughter. Two very happy moments in my life! I maintained my grades, but my daughter was born prematurely in the middle of my spring semester. Unfortunately, she was in the NICU for three weeks. Plus, I had to have a blood transfusion, which kept me in the hospital for a week. I lost the scholarship because I was away from school for about a month. Not too long afterward, my husband and I divorced.
I needed a job and had experience as a paralegal. So I applied here at James Scott Farrin. I was very blessed to be able to find this law firm. I worked as a paralegal and was able to go back to law school and finish my law degree. For the first time in my life, I feel as though I am where I was meant to be.
What are you to your clients? How do you connect?
I thrive off being a no-nonsense advocate for my clients. Especially when some insurance companies try to play semantics’ games, and belittle my client’s situation, as in this case I handled for a client injured by a drunk driver.
My client was hit by a drunk driver, but thankfully escaped with relatively minor injuries. The drunk driver was charged with a DUI. However, that driver was not convicted due to a technicality (despite being several times over the legal limit). As expected, the insurance adjuster low-balled my client on the recovery offer. While a low offer is expected, what got to me was that the adjuster had the unmitigated gall to laugh about my client’s injury claims. Actually laughed at the suffering of another human being! When I subsequently demanded policy limits because of the egregious behavior of the drunk driver, the defense attorney’s response was, “We all have bad days.” Suffice it to say that the defense attorney had a bad day, too – when I forced the insurance company’s hand to pay my client the policy limits*.
Don’t disrespect another human being. And don’t laugh at the expense of my client’s misfortune.
What are some encouraging words you have lived by?
My parents used to always tell us, “This too shall pass.” And that is what I try to impart to my clients. No matter how bad a situation they may find themselves in, it will eventually pass.
Who or what has influenced you most?
I would have to say my parents. They have taught me to always strive to do better. I am the third of four children. My parents have told me my whole life that ... their first kid was a girl, their second kid was a boy, so they were learning how to be parents with them. I'm the first one they really got to relax with and enjoy. I grew up being their sweetheart. But they were (and still are) very strict. They have always pushed me to do better. I would get A's, and I would get a 96, and my dad would say, "You could have gotten a 100." Not enough.
I watched them hold fast in the face of major adversity and disaster. They didn’t miss a beat. They just kept on faithfully believing that “this too shall pass.”
*Each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.