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Voice of Experience: Grissel Mercado, Counsel, Shearman & Sterling LLP

grissel mercadoTo succeed in any industry, you have to create a profile for yourself both internally and externally, says Shearman’s Grissel Mercado. “Young attorneys tend to focus on delivering excellent work, which is important, but also expected. You also have seek out opportunities to network,” she says.

Her area of capital markets has been particular fruitful in this regard, since the work is with client teams at her same level. “It’s a great way to build relationships with clients, and Shearman has supported this throughout in my career,” says Mercado, noting that partners would encourage her to network with the team after a deal – a practice that has paid off. She also was encouraged to join industry groups and write articles and find other ways to subtly promote herself in addition to producing great work.

Devoting Her Career to Latin America Issues

Mercado studied international economics and Latin American affairs at Georgetown, not initially intending to be an attorney. But after a stint as a legal assistant at Sullivan & Cromwell on the project development and finance team, mainly working on Latin American transactions, she decided to pursue a legal career, earning her degree from NYU.

She became a summer associate at Shearman, pursuing the firm based on the strength and depth of its Latin American practice, but also because it’s where she felt most comfortable during her interviews. “I was drawn to the collegial and friendly environment from Day One,” she says, adding that she senses less hierarchy than at many firms, and more opportunities to work directly with partners.

She rotated through several departments and ultimately chose capital markets because it affords her the opportunity to be a lawyer half the time and a trusted advisor half the time. “It offers elements of both the theoretical and practical,” she says.
One of the professional achievements she is most proud of is the first transaction she led in only her third year. “The partners in the Latin America practice were willing to give substantive work early on, and it was both challenging and rewarding to be a leader and team player,” she says. While her first two years were devoted to thoroughly learning different aspects of a transaction, she noted that “you often don’t stop to realize how the pieces fit together, but then it all comes to fruition when you’re leading a transaction”.
Right now she is working on a transaction representing a company who will be the first corporate issuer in its country to offer bonds in the international markets. “As a capital markets attorney, I can add value to deals like this as most of my clients don’t have exposure to the international market. I become very personally attached to my clients and deeply invested in their success,” she says.

It’s also gratifying to see how a transaction in a developing country can be a turning point, opening the door to foreign investment. “When you do the first deal, investors become more open to investing in that country,” she notes.

Latin America is an area where they’ve seen numerous innovative deals, like green bonds, which is a structure where proceeds are designated for environmentally friendly projects, such as financing renewable energy projects like wind generation.

She has also seen increased liquidity come into the region, as well as changes that have occurred in collective action clauses in sovereign offerings as a result of the difficulties faced in the Argentine debt restructuring process. Mercado enjoys helping her clients work through the ongoing changes in rules and regulations.
“As a Dominican-American I want to see the region advance,” she says. “I am directly connected to what I do.”

A Woman in a Man’s World

Mercado cites a dearth of women in Latin American markets: Although the status quo is slowly changing at companies, it’s not uncommon to be the only, or one of very few, women in the room. “It’s a well-known challenge everywhere, but Latin America is at a different level,” she says. Nevertheless, that has never affected her performance; one reason she cites is the culture at Shearman which has a significant number of women partners in leadership positions. In fact, one of the female partners she’s collaborated most closely with heads the Latin America practice and has served as the head of the capital markets practice.

She encourages young women to speak up. “Nobody is a better advocate for you than yourself,” she says. Women are more apt to think that their work will speak for itself and hesitant to self-promote but as she has become more senior, she sees that male junior associates are more confident about speaking about themselves. “Women need to take more initiative,” she says. “If you’re talking with the team before a call, mention a success, just as a man would.”

For women who are her peers, she encourages them not to “give up too soon.” She sees women leaving private practice thinking they will achieve a better life balance elsewhere, but she thinks that can sometimes be at the expense of substantive work. “We can create a balance at a law firm, especially as we explore technological advances. You can be the best possible attorney for your clients, and still carve out the personal time you need.”

Since joining Shearman, Mercado has been in involved in WISER (Women’s Initiative for Success, Excellence and Retention), always finding an event that will boost her skills. Just recently she participated in a speed networking program where participants got tips on how to spark a conversation in a short time; if, say you’re heading up an elevator with a senior executive. She also participates in Lean In sessions, where she gleans information on how both women and men are processing work/life balance issues.
An advocate for formal mentoring both inside and outside your practice group, she also finds informal mentoring to offer a career boost as it allows one to create connections with others in a very organic way.

Globe Trotting

While she’s had the opportunity to travel extensively in Latin America, Mercado loves to experience different cultures, such as in Peru or Guatemala, even if it’s for a short period. She also recently returned from a trip to Thailand, China and Hong Kong.
Outside of work, Mercado still enjoys giving back by participating in pro bono assignments for groups such as New York Family Court, where she provides legal advice to families in short consultations. “It’s very rewarding and as different from capital markets as you can get,” she says. “Shearman is a big proponent of pro bono work and offers an excellent program where we can do what interests us.”

Mercado has also been active in Cafecito, an informal network of Latina women lawyers and law students in the New York City area which meets about once a month. She believes it is a great forum to share common issues and celebrate Latinas’ accomplishments across various different fields of law.