Voice of Experience: Kerri Durso, Shearman & Sterling

Kerri Durso By Cathie Ericson

Don’t be afraid to speak up, urges Shearman & Sterling’s Kerri Durso, a New York-based counsel in the Derivatives & Structured Products practice.

“I find young lawyers– and women in particular– can be hesitant to speak up in groups. If you know the answer, share it without feeling intimidated by others,” she advises. “Having a true presence at the table is more than just being there and taking notes, but providing material information in an appropriate manner when you have it.”

A Career Built on Industry Mastery

After summering at Shearman & Sterling during her second year of law school, Kerri joined the firm’s Financial Restructuring & Insolvency practice as a full-time associate in 2008. She notes that this was a fantastic time to be an insolvency lawyer, with Lehman Brothers having filed for bankruptcy only the month before she started. “I learned so much in those first two years of working on the Lehman case for several of its creditors,” she says.

When the Lehman issues began to sort themselves out, she moved to Derivatives and Structured Products, which piqued her interest given the number of derivative claims in the Lehman insolvency. She has been there ever since, working for both the buy-side and sell-side, as well as market utilities.

Learning something new all the time is what keeps her interest fresh. For example, while new derivatives regulation coming out of Dodd-Frank has slowed, the implementation of several important aspects of Dodd-Frank continues. Currently she is deep in implementing the new margin requirements mandating the exchange of variation and initial margin for market participants. The regulations provided for a phased-in implementation schedule, and several financial institutions are subject to deadlines this fall. The market is also preparing for the fall of 2019 when the next phase will apply that requires new industry form documentation. “It is very exciting to be a part of drafting form documents that will be used for years to come in the derivatives market,” she notes.

While she has enjoyed many aspects of her work, the professional achievement Kerri says she is most proud of is the role she has played in expanding Shearman & Sterling’s relationship with several financial institutions. Through her personal connections and hard work, she has helped secure a number of meaningful engagements. “The breadth of the work is always changing, but knowing that our firm has the resources to serve a variety of different needs of our clients is something I am proud to be a part of,” she says.

Sharing Wisdom is Crucial for Future Generations

One lesson Kerri has learned along the way – that, as she admits, no one wants to learn – is that everyone makes mistakes, and the key is what you do after. “Recognize the mistake and raise the issue with those you are working with in a timely fashion,” she recommends. “There are few mistakes that cannot be fixed if you take responsibility and raise the issue as soon as possible,” she says, adding that clients and coworkers will respect you for addressing the mistake head on.

Over the years she learned many professional lessons from her sponsors, both male and female, whom she says have encouraged her throughout her career. She recommends young lawyers entering the industry put effort into finding someone they can relate to and emulate, cultivating the relationship if it doesn’t occur naturally. “These are the people who will help guide you through difficult issues in the workplace and that you can look to for career advice,” she says.

She encourages her peers to proactively assume those roles by taking an interest in the junior lawyers they work with. “I hope that I can play the same role my sponsors did for me for even one lawyer,” she says.

Kerri has been active in WISER (Women’s Initiative for Success, Excellence and Retention), the firm’s women’s inclusion network, which emphasizes mentorship, professional development and awareness for all lawyers. She co-chaired the group for two years and proudly attends their functions today, finding it to be a good forum to discuss career paths and learn how others have excelled.

In order to maintain a healthy work-life balance, Kerri says it’s imperative to find time to unplug; for example, she plans at least one great family vacation each year. It doesn’t always need to be to somewhere exotic, she says, but somewhere she can relax with her two-and-a-half-year-old son, infant daughter and husband. In addition, she is enjoying working with her son in the small vegetable garden they planted. “I truly enjoy spending time with my family and anything we do together is a treat,” she says.