Mover and Shaker: Cassandra Cuellar, Associate at Shearman & Sterling

Cassandra Cuellar

By Cathie Ericson

Being inquisitive and asking a lot of questions is one of the best ways to move ahead, whether you’re working with a partner or client, believes Shearman’s Cassandra Cuellar.

In addition, she recommends that professionals always maintain a positive attitude, showing up and treating every day like a new day. “It’s a stressful job, and you have to recognize that your role is to find a way around issues, to find a solution that will meet the client’s ultimate goal whether it’s an internal or external client.”

Honing a Specialty That Always Has Emerging Challenges

After growing up in a small town in Texas, Cuellar came to Austin in 2003 to attend University of Texas – the first lawyer in her family — and has been there ever since. While attending law school, she clerked with the firm Andrews Kurth, where she received an offer to work with the Emerging Companies group. She worked there for seven-and-a-half years until this March when the group of 14 attorneys and associated support staff moved over to Shearman and Sterling LLP.

Currently she is working with companies that are exploring very cutting-edge fields. For example, she is enjoying the challenge of developing two areas in the practice — cryptocurrency and digital assets – and helping move them more into the mainstream. “We have to take them out of the hands of the fringe groups and make them more accessible so people will become comfortable with crypto and blockchain,” she notes.

Another exciting area of growth is in AI. She has a client who focuses on looking at manuscripts and movie scripts for patterns that resonate, which she says is the type of task that AI will revolutionize by applying a more systematic approach.

Learning By Doing

Cuellar describes her first two years as an “unending learning moment.” At the time, she was working with several junior attorneys who left for various reasons so she seized the opportunity to fill the gaps. While it entailed many late nights, in hindsight she sees that taking on these various extra projects was the best possible thing she could have done to propel her career. “I was able to learn from mistakes and now have a vast background which helps me recognize things that I wouldn’t have noticed before.”

While embracing those kinds of opportunities can grow your career, she also finds incredible benefits in taking advantage of mentoring, whether formal or informal.

In fact, at an earlier position that didn’t offer a formal program, she sought out other attorneys to help give her advice. “People are more than willing to have conversations with you when you show you appreciate their time,” she says.

At Shearman, she recognized the culture of mentorship and support the minute she came over. “Female partners whom I don’t even work with have reached out, which was so impressive that these busy women would welcome me and offer their support,” she says. One in particular who stands out is partner Sarah McClean, whom she notes has been very conscious about developing a team of great women and inviting her to immediately get involved.

Another option Cuellar took advantage of was getting involved with industry organizations, which she finds particularly important for minority lawyers. She has enjoyed the four years she’s been involved with the Hispanic National Bar Association, which offers avenues for professional development and advancement; for example, she has had the chance to make pitches to corporations and gleaned immeasurable professional development opportunities from sitting in and learning from other attorneys

Because she places great importance on developing the pipeline of younger lawyers, she’s also been involved with a UT group called Minority Women Pursuing Law, which works with first-generation law students to offer counsel on job hunting. Each year Cuellar presents on what they should know as college students about what law schools and law firms are looking for to help give them a leg up.

Married with two dogs, Cuellar loves to cook and barbeque at home, and she and her husband enjoy frequent visits to their families in south Texas.