Through the Alumni Spotlight series, you can meet a few of our distinguished alumni to learn how they leveraged their time at the firm to advance their careers and what advice they would give to those looking to have similar success.
Alex Lopez '15 (Litigation, 2015-2022, New York City) was a Summer Associate with Shearman & Sterling in 2014 and joined the firm's Litigation practice group upon graduating from New York University School of Law in 2015. In addition to his work in Litigation, Alex was the co-chair of Sterling Pride, an inclusion network for the firm's LGBTQ+ community. In 2020, Alex was seconded to BNP Paribas and recently joined the bank as a full-time employee in their Litigation and Legal Investigations group.
What is your favorite memory or story from your time at Shearman & Sterling?
My favorite memory will always be the community I found at the firm, which took shape in different ways. I met one of my best friends during my summer associateship at Shearman when we were randomly assigned as officemates on day one. I ran the NYC marathon with another good friend from the firm and we raised over $10,000 for charity. In a few weeks, I'm attending a first birthday party for the daughter of another friend I met at the firm. It's these lasting relationships I will always remember.
Additionally, I was seconded at BNP Paribas when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the number of people who checked in with me from Shearman was astonishing. My partner-mentor set up monthly check-in sessions with me during my secondment, which was wonderful, and offered to continue mentoring me as I took on a full-time role at BNP Paribas. These personal connections will always resonate with me.
What skills or capabilities did you gain from your time at the firm that prepared you for future roles?
There are a couple of things. First, which is not a solely legal skill, is maintaining an effective task list. As a senior associate, and certainly as an in-house lawyer, you are driving the bus in a lot of ways. You are reminding people of what needs to get done and when, so staying organized is exceptionally helpful. Second, Shearman taught me to not be intimidated by the Financial Services industry. When I started, I didn't know the meaning of various financial terms but I learned over time to be comfortable with the fact that familiarizing myself with the industry requires continuous work, asking questions and occasional Googling. Finally, when you come out of law school, you may tend to overanalyze and try to issue spot everything. However, my time at Shearman taught me to focus on issues that matter and to express a clear point of view. I remember when a Shearman partner pushed me a couple of times to clearly express a viewpoint on a client-facing document. Though I was a little frustrated at the time, I understand now how important this is.
What is it like being in an in-house role? What do you enjoy most about your work?
In my current role, the bulk of my day is spent overseeing my files and providing ad hoc legal advice to internal stakeholders as needed. In addition, it is important for an in-house lawyer to be considering what's next and helping to anticipate risks. This is something I think about a lot now and wish I had thought more of as an associate. The other important piece is making sure my colleagues outside of legal have enough (but not more) information than they need. You want to make sure they have enough information so they feel informed and can weigh in where appropriate, but remember that they are also incredibly busy with their day jobs.
There are two aspects I really enjoy about my job. First, I like having "one" client and seeing the way all of the files and emerging trends impact this one entity and industry. Second, similar to Shearman, it's the community. The litigation and investigations team at BNP Paribas is super collegial and my colleagues—all of whom have been at the bank longer than me—have been great resources as I navigate this role. Moreover, I work with colleagues from around the world and partner with multiple functions across the bank. I really enjoy the collegial aspect to my work.
What advice would you give to someone looking to have a similar career path?
The first is to not be afraid of financial institution work as a junior associate. It might be scary when you get your first assignment—unless you went to business school—but don't let that intimidate you. I had no idea I wanted to do financial services work, I just got assigned a handful of cases and thought, "alright, that sounds interesting" and went from there. Second, it's important to network within the financial services legal world and to put yourself out there. One thing that worked for me was attending events that were not focused on files, like CLEs or networking events in connection with Sterling Pride. Lastly, find a mentor in the space. I was lucky that I started working with folks who primarily do this work at Shearman so when I was thinking about going in-house, not only did I have great connections, but I also had rewarding conversations with folks who knew what I was weighing and who were able to give me honest advice and guidance.