By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
There are many things that Lisa Brill loves about her work as a real estate partner at global law firm Shearman & Sterling. But best of all?
“It’s very exciting to walk by a building and know that it’s a deal I worked on,” she says. “The buildings and developments have much more complicated histories than anyone ever would guess.”
Structuring these real estate deals takes great skill, even for a leading real estate lawyer like Brill. “I really like a number of different aspects of the job – working on joint ventures, loans, acquisitions, land assemblages… these can be very complicated transactions.”
Adding to the challenge is the fact that Shearman & Sterling, as a major international law firm, is often brought in for its global expertise.
“We are primarily a New York practice, but since this is Shearman & Sterling, there is often a global aspect,” she explains. “For example, we’re seeing more and more out of Brazil, Mexico and China on the real estate side.”
“What attracted me to Shearman & Sterling initially was my interest in working on international transactions and the firm’s global footprint. Each culture has a different approach to business and a different legal system. At our firm, we have a very diverse group of lawyers and we are very cognizant of those differences.”
Another Important Role
In addition to her client work, Brill serves as co-chair of the firm’s Summer Associate program. She sees this role as critically important for helping all young lawyers, and especially women, acclimate themselves to life in a major law firm.
“We need to nurture and help every associate who comes in the door get on the right path,” she says. “But we especially need to reach out to young women when they start, so they know they have people they can talk to, that they have a support system.”
As a new lawyer just starting out, Brill herself didn’t work for any female partners directly, but that didn’t stop other women in the firm from reaching out to her to provide guidance and support, she explained.
“Other women, not in my group at the firm, would reach out to me – for coffee or to say hello, or just to let me know they were there if I needed to talk,” she recalls. “And it did make a difference to me. I always knew they were taking an interest in me, even if I wasn’t working directly with them. I think women partners have a responsibility to do this for the female associates.”
Brill remembers her early days fondly. Originally from Baltimore, she studied law at Georgetown. “I thought I would stay in the mid-Atlantic area, but then I realized how many opportunities there are in law in New York and beyond,” she says. In fact, the time Brill had spent living in Paris before law school inspired her to seek out opportunities beyond the US.
Impressed by Shearman & Sterling’s global footprint, she took a position at the firm’s London office, joining the Capital Markets Group. “I loved it – there were interesting clients and partners, and I had a fantastic experience,” she recalls.
But eventually she realized she wanted to be closer to her family in the US. She says, “Because Shearman has an emphasis on rotating to different groups to develop well-rounded lawyers, the firm supported me.”
She joined the New York Structured Finance Group and then moved to the Real Estate Group. “I loved it right away,” she explains. After about five or six years in Real Estate, Brill was made a partner at the end of 2007.
“I’m proud of my entire career,” she says. “And making partner is obviously a huge achievement. I think what I’m most proud of is the relationships I’ve made with partners and clients, and my development as a lawyer.”
“Being a lawyer can be incredibly challenging, not just in the practice of law. There is so much more. You’re a business advisor, a marketer, a business owner. Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer, but I’ve found that the rest you have to learn as you go.”
She added, “It’s a fantastic career, and being a business person and a lawyer means your career is so diverse. But it is one of the more challenging parts.”
Advice for Women in Law
Brill says that while she hasn’t encountered any challenges to her advancement, she has noticed a lack of female role models in the industry in general.
“I’m very lucky to have started my career here – I don’t think there are any barriers for women to succeed and I definitely have had the same opportunities as my male colleagues,” she says.
Still, there are challenges, she says, especially when it comes to work/life balance issues. “As women, we continue to need role models so we can continue the dialogue on work/life balance,” she says. “I hope that associates in my firm see me as part of that dialogue.”
Brill shared some of the advice she often gives to new lawyers. “The first piece of advice is always think broadly. There are lots of opportunities in law and sometimes you need to seek them out.”
Secondly, she continued, “Don’t give up.”
Brill concedes that sticking it out can be particularly difficult for women, due to the lack of female role models at the top. “I have two children, and I hate the term ‘trying to have it all,’ because I think having it all is different for every single person. It’s challenging to find a balance. I think we need to be more open to young associates that they shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this and ask questions about how we each achieve our goals and manage our careers and families.”
Brill connects with Shearman women during the firm’s women’s network events. She also enjoys being a part of the Associate Development Committee. “One of the things Shearman & Sterling is doing differently now and will be carrying forward for our first- and second-year associates is that we have a Corporate Group. Rather than being placed in a practice group from the start, associates will have the opportunity to try a broad range of corporate practices before settling into a group. I am co-heading the Corporate Group and work with a great group of administrative people here to make it happen. It’s a great program and allows the associates to experience as much as possible early in their careers before anyone expects them to be an expert and meet people in every part of the firm.”
In Her Personal Time
Outside the office, Brill enjoys participating in industry groups like WX, a woman’s real estate group in New York. “I encourage young people to find those groups – it’s a great way to meet people and have conversations about the industry you are involved in.”
She is also a board member of the City Bar Justice Center, an organization providing pro bono services to people in need, “like victims of Hurricane Sandy,” she explained. She is particularly involved in the group’s Neighborhood Law Project.
“I also have two young children who bring great joy to my life and of whom I am incredibly proud. They’re a lot of fun and a lot of work. Mostly fun,” she says with a laugh.