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"Force of Nature"

When law partners at Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart approached Mikki Canton about chairing the firm's Miami office, she initially resisted. "I said 'You're not doing this because I'm a woman or the Cuban thing, are you? Because I don't do that," recalls Canton, 53. "I never do that."MIKKI CANTON

Appeal at Gunster Yoakley: Very plugged in to Miami.

Outside the office: Women's Leadership Board of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government; board of trustees of Barry University and Mercy Hospital; Florida chair of the Fellows of the American Bar Association; former vice chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Career path: Pursued dream of law school after having three children and a career as a school psychologist and administrator.

Mentor: The late Chesterfield Smith of Holland & Knight.

Coffee mug motto: "Success is loving what you do."

Canton, say colleagues at Gunster Yoakley, rose to the leadership post because she's dynamic and creative, with boundless energy, an upbeat attitude and extraordinary people skills. Add to that her expansive network of ties in Miami's multicultural business and political communities, and Canton may have the formula the 125-lawyer, West Palm Beach-based firm needs to elevate its profile in Miami -- a goal that has eluded the white-shoe firm in the past.

Her strength of character derives in part from early hardships: At age 8, she emigrated from Cuba with her parents, who like many restarted their lives from scratch.

"Mikki is a force of nature," says Robert S. Hackleman, the firm's litigation chief and a governing committee member. "Whatever she does, she is extremely successful." (Recently, that meant organizing a weekend retreat for female firm members at a Palm Beach hotel, where each got a copy of a favorite book: "Women Who Run with the Wolves," by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.)

Canton joined Gunster Yoakley as an equity shareholder in July 2003. She persuaded the firm to let her create and chair her own department: Corporate strategic counseling and public affairs. After 16 years at Holland & Knight, where she did government and entertainment law and worked closely with the venerable Chesterfield Smith, her mentor, she was ready for a new challenge.