How I Made Office Managing Partner: 'I’m a Highly Engaged and Inclusive Leader,' Says Liz Espín Stern of Mayer Brown


"Every challenge presents an opportunity. Setbacks are often vehicles to create a bond among those facing the challenge."

Job title: Office managing partner, Washington, D.C.

Practice area: Global mobility and migration.

Law school and year of graduation: University of Virginia Law, 1986.

How long were you a partner at the firm? Since April 2014.

Were you a partner at another firm before joining your present firm? I made partner at Shaw Pittman, the firm I joined out of law school, in which I ultimately served on the board of directors. I left in 2005 to join Baker McKenzie, where I became D.C. office managing partner and served on the firm’s policy committee. In 2014, I left for Mayer Brown, to establish an innovative “Global People Solution” by which Mayer Brown offers major companies a holistic solution to manage their globally mobile work corps.

What year did you make office managing partner at your current firm? 2021.

What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you office managing partner? I’d already served on our Partnership Board and had established myself as an innovator in launching both the Global Mobility practice and our COVID-19 and “10Hundred” initiatives (the latter covering the top 10 issues in the next 100 days). Perhaps most pivotal to the firm’s decision was that I’m a highly engaged and inclusive leader, always seeking to establish a purposeful mutual direction. In this time of transformation of the workplace and the global economy, the need to inspire and motivate esprit de corps is needed more than ever, and I’m committed to fueling a culture of active collaboration.

As office managing partner what are your key responsibilities and what challenges do you face in your role? Motivating, supporting and engaging the immensely talented corps we have in D.C. is my primary responsibility. The lawyers in this office have helped clients navigate the most significant policy, legal and economic changes of the past 50+ years, from Watergate to 9/11 to the digitization of society, and, now more recently, to the war in Ukraine, with the help of our versatile and talented business services staff. Among them are luminaries from the government and the business sectors, and my job is to provide them with the support and attentiveness that help them be successful. The challenge in this era stems from the novelty of a changed workplace, one where we combine virtual media channels with the live interaction that was the traditional norm. How we train, develop, and brainstorm when no one is in one set place is new, and we’re experimenting to optimize the communications and effectiveness of this hybrid era. Fortunately, I have a fantastic leadership team to support me, both in the office and in the firm, and we’re creating an open and active dialogue to make everyone part of this next generation of workplace activity.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone who wants to rise up the ranks to firm leadership? Get involved in activities outside of your day-to-day that expose you to strategic growth initiatives, product development, community engagement, and talent management. Ask questions, so you gain an in-depth understanding of how your colleagues and other leaders think and develop ideas and be willing to add your voice and thought to the discussion. In D.C., I already see some amazing talent in our next generation of attorneys, and I am welcoming their involvement.

Who had the greatest influence on your career and helped propel you to managing partner? Steve Meltzer, a former leader of the corporate group at Shaw Pittman (now Pillsbury), was my original mentor and sponsor. Steve’s practice focuses on the IT sector, and he exposed me to the fundamental lessons of entrepreneurial growth and commercial pragmatism. I discovered how much I enjoyed enterprise evolution and became a student of innovation, ultimately emulating some of the marvelous inventions at our tech clients onto my own enterprise. That led to my being invited to serve in various management roles, where I applied the innovation principles to fuel growth and mobilize talent.

What would you tell your younger self? Every challenge presents an opportunity. Setbacks are often vehicles to create a bond among those facing the challenge. Momentum can result from this to facilitate superb change management. I’ve found these to be pivotal moments where you can elevate to a higher level.

As a law firm leader, what impact would you like to have on your firm or the legal industry as a whole? I’d like to energize lawyers of all backgrounds and generations in our office—and in our firm—to give their absolute best and enjoy it. We have superb lawyers with immense talents, and I think if they can feel they are valued, respected and supported, they will reach new heights. The ability of talented people to invent and reform and improve when they are empowered to contribute—that’s what I want to capture and continuously develop.

What lessons, if any, did you learn in 2020/2021 (the core COVID years)? I had the privilege of co-leading our firm’s COVID initiative, through which we created a multimedia effort to provide clients with guidance on the leading issues affecting them during COVID. In the course of our effort, we brought together experts from the full international network, including so many of our thought leaders from D.C. The innovative thought and cutting-edge guidance that resulted was phenomenal and led to our strengthening and broadening premier work for premier clients. Lesson learned—challenges offer the greatest opportunities when we work together.

What key elements would you like to focus on for 2022? Active and authentic communications lead to engagement. Purposeful collaboration leads to meaningful innovation. Being present matters.

Reprinted with permission from the October 7 edition of Law.com © 2022 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.