Maria Gonzalez Knavel remains as determined in retirement as she was when working as a partner for Foley & Lardner.
Her goal: to pass that determination onto the next generation of Latinos, just like her father passed down to her.
Gonzalez Knavel recalls the resolve she saw in her father, Ramon Gonzalez, as he moved their family to the U.S. and turned his medical training into a practice. His purposefulness helped shape the career aspirations of herself and her siblings.
Gonzalez Knavel, who in February retired as a partner from Foley & Lardner, said she strives to be a role model for today’s youth, especially Hispanic and Latino kids, and emphasizes to them the importance of having drive and determination.
“Whether it’s your environment or it’s biological, you have to have grit,” she said.
Gonzalez Knavel, 60, has found many ways to help shape Latino youths. As part of the Hispanic National Bar Association, she took two-dozen Virginia middle school Latinas to visit with Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
She’s also developing an educational program that she hopes will help Wisconsin’s Hispanic and Latino kids view the law and other white-collar professions as viable options.
Gonzalez Knavel, who graduated from Penn State University in 1976 with a degree in health planning and administration, said she’d like to start by helping women in the legal profession, especially Hispanics.
“Over my time as a lawyer, there has been a slight improvement for Hispanic women in law, but not much,” she said.
Her law degree from Marquette University and extensive background at her father’s medical practice readied her for “practical” answers to her Foley clients’ health care business situations. In one case, she spotted medical billing differences in a compliance claim; in another, she won a federal circuit court appeal for her hospital clients based on procedural missteps she exposed in a $20 million claim by the U.S. Department Justice.
C. Frederick Geilfuss worked with Gonzalez Knavel in Foley’s health care law practice for 20 years. Unlike your typical summer clerk or green, first-year associate, Gonzalez Knavel came out of law school ready to “tell you what she was feeling,” he said.
And she could shrewdly move clients through the increasingly regulated and litigious world of health care that bubbled up in the 1990s.
“She sort of took over … and was intuitive about Medicare and Medicaid, how they worked and how to navigate clients through them,” Geilfuss said.