Jones Mayer’s lead legal secretary, Wendy Gardea, brings a runner’s mindset to her work. She draws on the disciplines built over the miles to bring the focus, drive, and commitment needed to keep the firm’s gears turning. In this article, we sit down with Wendy to learn a bit about how she does it.
A veteran of the legal industry
Wendy has worked in law for almost 40 years. After finishing a paralegal degree in 1982, she found work at a Los Angeles bankruptcy firm. It was a time of transition in the industry, with computers just beginning to replace carbon copies. Encountering the new technologies on the job created a craving in her to learn all she could.
“I credit my parents for encouraging me to pursue an education,” she says. Her father was a truck driver, and her mother was a stay-at-home mom. Both of them encouraged Wendy to follow the call of her curiosity, wherever it would lead.
“Bankruptcy was never going to be my passion,” she says with a laugh. “But that first job helped me discover how much I enjoy mastering new topics. I learned quickly that the more I know, the more valuable I will be to the attorneys I support.”
Before long, she landed an internship with the attorney behind the Pitchess Motion, Miguel Garcia. His defense practice gave her a window into an entirely different side of the law. She still draws on the lessons learned in her work for Mr. Garcia. “Now, of course, I work on cases on behalf of police departments. Seeing the other side of criminal justice was incredibly eye-opening.”
Finding her home away from home
When Wendy’s career led her to Jones Mayer in 2006, she knew she’d found something special. “I said to myself, ‘This is where I’m staying,’” she recalls.
Although the firm was still relatively small at the time, growth skyrocketed. “Kim Barlow slammed me with opportunities. I just had to figure it out as I went along. It’s been fun. Tough, but fun.”
Doing research is a big part of what maintains novelty and enthusiasm in her role. “There’s so much to do and so much to learn,” she says. “I feel like I’ve seen it all, everything from slip-and-fall accidents to Supreme Court cases.”
Supporting the attorneys in major litigation projects has been among her biggest thrills. Preparing filings before the U.S. or California Supreme Court adds a special kind of excitement, especially when deadlines are tight. “We’re miracle workers sometimes,” she says. “The attorneys are constantly on deadlines, and sometimes a big task needs to get done with only an hour to spare.”
Crossing those finish lines with just minutes to spare is an adrenaline rush. “The litigation game is a passion of mine,” Wendy says. Tackling complex topics like voting rights or eminent domain keeps her work constantly evolving. The stakes are often very high. “I love getting things done and helping people,” she says.
Creating a space for others to thrive
Wendy has served as the lead legal secretary at Jones Mayer since 2015. Her position gives her endless opportunities to nurture the professional growth of her colleagues. “I do whatever I can to assist everybody,” she says. “I know how it is to come to someplace new, where people aren’t as welcoming or as friendly as they should be. I’ll never do that to anybody. Giving people a good start is essential.”
For Wendy, the firm’s positive environment for professional women has been critical “Dick Jones recognizes you for your skillset. I appreciate that” she says. Wendy also finds strength from working with other powerful women. “Kim Barlow is a woman’s woman,” she says. “She’s an inspiration—a tough woman working in a man’s world.”
She also feels a unique sense of belonging within the firm’s culture. “I’m a proud Mexican-American woman,” she says. “There are so many different cultures represented here. To walk by someone’s office and hear them speaking Italian or Chinese to their mother is just a daily reminder of the inclusiveness and sense of belonging you can find here.”
Through the pandemic, Wendy and her team have had to overcome challenges they have never faced before. “Working at home was scary at first,” she says. Solving the practical problems of having the team scattered around took some effort. Now, everyone has embraced working remotely. “I put together a remote work policy for the staff, so everyone can stay accountable while having some flexibility,” she says. “It’s made a big difference for everybody, especially the parents who get to spend more time with their babies but still work.”
When Wendy says, “I really love my job,” you can tell she means it.