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5 December 20234 minute read

Why I Lawyer: Q&A with Francisco Cerezo

Why did you decide to become a lawyer?

As a young and restless college student who arrived in St. Louis, Missouri after being born and raised in Puerto Rico, I found myself grappling with a number of issues – ranging from social justice and politics to identity and ethnicity. I threw myself into multiple disciplines during my college years and found that, while I did not necessarily obtain answers in what I was studying, I did connect with a number of voices that shared many of my interests and concerns.

As a result, I propelled myself into the world of literature, particularly post-boom Latin American and US Latino literature. I enjoyed those years of exploration, including graduate school, also realizing that the world of literature would provide me with a theoretical experience while transitioning to the law would give me the tools to actively address issues of importance to me.

How has being a lawyer helped you in other areas of your life?

In the late 1990s, there were very few Latinos practicing in the AmLaw 100 firms, and even fewer of us who carried our Latino heritage with pride. Navigating the traditional spaces of Wall Street and simultaneously staying true to my roots was not easy.

I leveraged the particularity of my profile as a Latino, bilingual, and bicultural professional to differentiate myself and earned the trust and friendship of clients and colleagues alike.

DLA Piper has allowed me to make a positive impact across various areas beyond corporate law. I have effected change on issues that range from public policy to economic development – particularly involving US Latino, Puerto Rican, and Latin American affairs.

What is an important lesson you learned from a mentor that you’ve relied on across your career?

As an associate, I was asked to participate in an important meeting by the managing partner of the firm at which I worked at the time. He was always kind to me and championed my professional development. In a meeting with one of his most important clients, the client turned to me and asked what I did specifically at the firm. At the time, I was heavily involved with telecom M&A matters in Latin America, so I provided a well-conceived answer illustrating those capabilities.

When the meeting ended, the managing partner told me I had given a wonderful explanation, but that in the future I should reconsider how I answer those types of questions. He said if that client ever wanted to engage a LatAm-focused M&A lawyer, I would surely be top-of-mind but that the client would not likely call me for anything else.

The managing partner went on to explain how you should avoid positioning yourself as a niche player, but rather as a go-to advisor who solves problems, resolves issues, and gets to yes by closing mission-critical transactions. Although it might not be right for others, I have followed that advice ever since.

What is your favorite DLA Piper memory and why is it your favorite?

I have multiple, wonderful memories at DLA Piper. Principal among them was how the firm, as an institution, and multiple colleagues individually, rallied to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, including offering pro bono legal services. The humanity and excellence of our firm and its members was heartwarming and inspiring. I will always remember and appreciate it.

Another wonderful memory was the 2016 launch of the San Juan office, combining the reach of a global law firm with the immense potential of the Puerto Rican economy and its extraordinary people. Seven years later, it has become one of the leading law firms in the local market. I take pride in helping connect Puerto Rico to the world and in supporting Puerto Rican talent and civil society as a whole, not only as my birthplace but also on behalf of the firm I call my professional home.