Name: Elizabeth Lopez
Title: Managing Counsel – Litigation
Firm Background:Summer Associate 2006; Associate 2007- 16
How did you become interested in the law as a career? Did you always envision yourself as a lawyer?
I originally thought I might do immigration law after seeing the various issues my family, immigrants from Mexico, faced day in and day out, and witnessing the voice that my mom had as a lawyer (and the only white person on my dad’s side of the family). Both experiences were an inspiration to me to go to law school. Once at Northwestern, I had fun in the trial advocacy class and decided to give litigation a try as a summer associate at Drinker Biddle & Reath (DBR) and have stuck with litigation since.
Provide a brief overview of your work at Drinker Biddle & Reath.
Like other diverse lawyers at the firm before me, I was recruited in law school to join what was then Gardner Carton Douglas by Jesse Ruiz. He told me that he would not only help me become a good lawyer but also a community leader. With that, I was sold! I passed up over a dozen other offers to join DBR and never looked back. In 2006, I was a summer associate, and then I was an associate from 2007 to 2016. During that time I was part of the Commercial Litigation group, working on everything from breach of contract to shareholder derivative suits to class actions. I was fortunate to work with partners who cared deeply about investing in the development of young lawyers. In addition to my billable work, I took on pro bono work through the NIJC, taking an asylum case to trial and then up on appeal (we eventually won) with current partner Nick Guzman and putting on a DACA clinic on the 37th floor. I also served on the Associates Committee and Diverse Lawyers Committee, planning many dinners and meetings!
What are your chief responsibilities and priorities as Managing Counsel - Litigation at United Airlines?
At United I support all areas of the business with regard to pre-litigation and litigation advice. My practice includes all types of complex commercial claims, including antitrust and class action litigation, complex contract disputes and business torts, and personal injury and property damage. In addition, I manage legal support for Latin America and the Caribbean, serving as the business’ main point of contact in these regions. My work in this area includes advising on compliance with COVID-19 travel restrictions, managing government investigations, drafting commercial contracts and advising on tax and real estate issues.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and how did they impact your role?
The biggest challenge was also a great opportunity – working on issues I had never seen before, having to find extra-creative solutions to the myriad of business issues raised by the COVID-19 crisis. I took on all of Latin America and the Caribbean in early 2021, and that has been a rich and rewarding experience. But the “more work and less time” logistical challenge was eased by working at home and cutting out the time I used to commute – the silver lining of being house-bound in the pandemic!
How did your time at the firm prepare you for your career now?
While nothing will truly prepare you to deal with the issues an airline sees, e.g., emotional support peacocks, I have often said that the diversity of work I handled at DBR prepared me well for the in-house life. Bouncing between small business breach of contract cases and large chain store nation-wide class actions at DBR was good training to be an in-house litigator where you really do get handed the kitchen sink. And, of course, I had great colleagues at DBR who I still reach out to today professionally and personally, including specifically Terri Ahrens, now in-house at U.S. Foods, who was and is a meticulous and tenacious litigator and who showed me it was possible to have a gaggle of kids and work at the firm. There are many others that made coming to work fun, and leaving the firm hard – David Williams, Nick Guzman and Ale Lara, to name a few!
I want to also mention that the firm really supported me through various ups and downs during my relatively short time at DBR, which allowed me to keep pushing ahead with my legal career. I had three babies and my husband was treated for a rare cancer between kids 1 and 2 while I was an associate. The firm allowed me to work remotely from Houston, Texas, while my husband was treated at MD Anderson, before remote work was the norm, and that really changed my life. Ed Getz as Managing Partner of the Chicago office at the time was a huge ally in that regard, and I probably owe him a beer!
Is there any advice you would give to an attorney transitioning from big law to an in-house role?
My advice would be to trust your gut. As an in-house attorney you are handed all sorts of problems that you have never seen before and may never see again. You are constantly learning the substance, but what you already have after working at an outside lawyer is good judgment. And good judgment is more important than anything, especially when you don’t have the luxury of time, since on a daily basis we are handed issues that need an immediate response.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Free time? What is that? Kidding aside, I love to be outside with my kids. Snow skiing, water skiing, kayaking, hiking, riding our bikes to get ice cream – anything outside! I also coach my kids’ baseball teams each year – very fun and I will miss it when they get too old for me to coach.