Career Advice

Interview With a Latina Attorney Working in New York

Are you curious? Do you read the news? Would you like to make it? Read the following interview with Elizabeth del Cid, Partner–Securities Litigation and Arbitration Defense Attorney at Murphy & McGonigle PC, and learn how to.

Please tell us about your childhood and where you grew up.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I got my ten minutes of fame as an aspiring journalist. Every Sunday I would read aloud the front page stories of La Opinión and the Los Angeles Times to my parents. That sparked my interest in investigative writing. In my teens, I volunteered as a staff reporter for L.A. Youth newspaper (readership 350,000) and contributed editorials to other local and international publications.
Seeing my byline made my childhood. Now I look forward to making the news.
If you lived in another country, was the transition to the US difficult?
Two years ago, I relocated to Manhattan from Los Angeles. In a New York minute, my time zone, wardrobe, attitude, mode of transportation, and personal square footage all changed. There are pockets of this island that I still haven’t uncovered, so I don’t feel as if I have fully transitioned from West to East Coast yet. And truth be told, sometimes New York feels like another planet.
Did you go to college, and if so, was being a Hispanic an advantage or a disadvantage?
When I attended UCLA, the student body was pretty mixed but there weren’t many minorities in my classes. Spanish is my first language, but I thrived in English literature, History, and even Geography. For my thesis, I went back to my roots and wrote about Miguel De Unamuno’s Nivola, Niebla. Then I went straight to law school at the University of Minnesota. At the time, the dean of the U was first minority dean of a top twenty U.S. law school. The school was certainly trying to crush glass ceilings related to higher education, but I could count on two hands the number of Latinos at my school. So I got involved in campus recruiting as a student ambassador, hoping that eventually more people who looked like me would be walking on the campus.
What is your job title and what industry do you work in?
I’m an attorney for banks, broker-dealers, annuity companies, and their agents and officers. I either work on litigation and arbitration (i.e., when investors sue because they made less money than they expected), or compliance (i.e., tidying up company policies and procedures to avoid issues with the FBI, SEC, and FINRA).
Can you please tell us about your career path, i.e. how did you get to your current position?
When there’s a job to do, don’t be scared to do it.
Apart from graduating law school and passing the bar exam, being an effective trial attorney requires speaking in front of judges, clients, seasoned attorneys, and thought leaders. Criminal, civil, administrative, regulatory hearings – I went to all of them. There were times when I only had a couple hours to prepare for a hearing, so thinking on my toes and ignoring the butterflies in my belly became key.
Please describe the things you do on a typical day.
I’m a young partner at a new law firm in the most dynamic city in the world, so I’m pounding pavement and managing my current caseload. Cases don’t just get handed to lawyers and resolved by a judge. Attorneys have to figure out what are the issues, who they pertain to, how to solve them, what do they cost, and under what timeline (well before judgment day).
The part I enjoy the most about my job is participating in my law firm’s Women’s Initiative. My business partner, Kate McGrail, and I co-head this resource group to reinforce collegiality and support for professional women in the financial services industry, not just legal.
What did you learn the hard way in your career and how did that happen?
Everyone will tell you to “network”, but no one explains what that means. I’ve found it means picking a niche, getting to know the current and future decision-makers of that area, and engaging that group over the course of years. If you can figure out your niche in college, you are many steps ahead. I discovered it much later when I moved to Manhattan where networking is a constant ritual.
What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
I wish I had worked at a car dealership when I was younger, so I would have gotten practice closing sales deals much earlier. Law school teaches the art of negotiation, but salesmanship, branding, and schmoozing are nowhere on the curriculum.
On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
I feel great when I win an argument that I thought I should have lost. It’s taught me that sometimes when you think the odds are stacked against you, they aren’t.
When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
When I am faced with an uncooperative witness or a rogue judge on a “good” case, I wish the ground would just swallow me. These “bad” experiences have taught me that there is a human element to doing well on a case that isn’t written in the law.
How stressful is your job?
My job is to take the burden off my client’s shoulders. The more money in dispute, the greater the pressure.
Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
When I embraced the word “no”, I gained balance in my life. The first seven years of my career, when I was paying my dues, no was not an option. After that, I allowed other things in my life to take center stage.
What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold?
When I started practicing in 2007, my salary was $100,000. That sounded like a lot at the time, but I was also working 2,500 hours (billable and non-billable) to earn that salary. The pay increases with experience, but so does the responsibility.
What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in your career?
Knowing that I am one of the few first-generation Latina lawyers advising some of the biggest financial institutions in the world, on some of the most dynamic issues facing the industry, is very rewarding.
What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced?
I’ve experienced a lot of change professionally these past two years, so adjusting to a new city, office, and home has not been without challenge.
What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
Aside from earning a law degree and state bar admission, lawyers should come up with a business plan to stay in the profession (instead of leaning in all the time). Burned out is not how you want to culminate your career.
What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Make yourself the next “Uber”. Figure out what your niche is missing and become that.
Do you feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
The sweetest side of my business is working alongside the women who make up the financial services industry. They are immensely motivated, smart, personable, and helpful. These ladies inspire me all the time, and I feel lucky to be in their circle. As for my next steps, I would like to serve financial companies in Latin America or entities that cater to a Spanish-speaking clientele. I would love to see this segment of the population have a better handle on investing, and I think that needs to start with understanding the framework of these banks and brokerage firms.