Jose Lopez – CUP Fellow Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?

I am a corporate attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. In this role, I have advised clients on mergers, acquisitions and securities offerings, as well as corporate governance and public disclosure matters.

My interest in corporate law grew out of community development work I did in college. The Berkeley city council appointed me to the city’s Housing Advisory Commission, which awarded grants to developers and community organizations engaged in local development projects. I noticed that some of the groups with the most worthy public interest objectives seemed to have trouble supporting their grant applications with performance data and financial projections – this shortcoming often prevented otherwise admirable projects from being funded. I was an economics major at the time, with a strong interest in government and liberal causes. Once I saw the central role that finance plays in the public arena, I became determined to deepen my understanding of business and economics. In law school I came to recognize that corporate law often lies at the intersection of business and government. When the opportunity to work on complex transactional matters presented itself, I knew that this was the right path for me.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

The nature of complex commercial activity dictates that we are constantly dealing with moving targets. Our clients face a broad range of issues that have to be managed, including dynamic windows for business opportunities, regulatory and litigation risks, industry competition and the behavior of other market participants. What was marginally on the radar screen yesterday may become the team’s primary focus overnight. Of course, this unpredictability is also what makes the work interesting.

What is your proudest achievement?

I have been fortunate to be a part of talented teams working on noteworthy deals in recent years, including Mosaic’s spin-off from Cargill in 2011 and Grupo Modelo’s combination with Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2012. I am proud of my contributions to these teams, particularly since transactions of this size and complexity have not been common during the economic recovery.

Even so, I am most proud of the assistance that I have been able to provide some of my firm’s pro bono clients. I was recently able to help a mother from the Dominican Republic secure a visa so that she could be by her 4-year-old daughter’s side as her child underwent chemotherapy in the United States. Using your legal training to help people is extremely satisfying.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?

My parents – they are Mexican immigrants who arrived in the United States with nothing more than hope in a better future and a willingness to work hard to make their dreams a reality. I’ve come to appreciate how much courage it must have taken to abandon everything that was familiar in order to build a life in a foreign culture without the benefit of guidance or connections.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I see myself honing the craft of lawyering in order to have an impact within my field but also more broadly through community work. I was a teacher in New York City public schools prior to attending law school. Improving public education will always be a passion of mine and I know that public service will play a role in my professional life.

What is one thing you’ve learned from the CUP Fellows Program that you would pass along to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?

Nobody makes it alone. You have to engage with your network by asking people for help and by finding ways to help others advance however you can. The first step is surrounding yourself with good people. As the saying goes, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”