After law school, Branden Lopez wasn’t sure what type of job she wanted or even the kind of law she wanted to practice. What made it worse was that her friends and colleagues seemingly had clearly defined career paths, some having served as law clerks and others interning for law firms during the summers. Lopez, who spent those times studying abroad, feeding her passion of learning about different cultures, wondered if she had made a mistake.
“You have this expectation when you graduate that you’re going to land your dream job and make lots money, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth,” she says.
One silver lining was her family’s deep history in real estate. Having spent her life observing her mom’s career as a real estate agent and her dad’s title company business, it made sense to start there. So, she did, working as a commercial real estate attorney before deciding to start her own practice, paths that placed her up against a steep learning curve. While law school prepared her how to think like a lawyer, it didn’t necessarily teach her how to be one.
That education came from an unexpected source: a helpful employee at the local clerk of court’s office when Lopez needed to file a lawsuit but didn’t know how.
“When I walked into the clerk’s office one day, there was a defining moment where I could either pretend like I knew what I was doing and royally mess things up, or I could be honest and admit I recently graduated law school and had no idea what I was doing and ask for help. I decided to do the latter,” she says. “The employee at the clerk’s office told me that she had so many lawyers come in thinking they knew it all and that she’d rather take time teaching me how to do things the right way. And that’s what she did.”
Every day, Lopez would meet with her. They’d pull files, go through cases, and Lopez would get many of her questions answered. That experience gave Lopez the confidence and the skills she needed to succeed in her own practice and to eventually be an effective general counsel of @properties Christie’s International Real Estate. It also showed Lopez the value of being vulnerable and admitting what you don’t know.
“It’s OK to feel like you don’t belong, or you don’t know what you want. We’re taught to fake it until we make it, but sometimes just being vulnerable and saying I don’t know what I’m doing and asking questions will take you far,” she advises. “You’ll be surprised by how many people are willing to help you when you’re honest with them. There are times where it is OK to admit you don’t have it all figured out.”
Today, Lopez tries to do what that employee from the clerk’s office did for her, for others. Since she stepped into her current role in 2022, she has led with a mind toward others’ needs and fostered a culture of vulnerability.
“As a leader, it’s important not just to focus on what you need for your own personality type but for your coworkers and who they are as well,” she says. “My work style and needs may differ from others. I try to focus on being malleable, allowing others to feel empowered, being accessible, and just being kind. Life can be hard, and you never know what someone is going through. In my role, it’s key to understand what motivates people; it’s more psychology than business at times.”
That mentality has helped to strengthen her relationships with her colleagues and helped her in business. She’s navigated rapid growth by putting the business’s needs at the forefront and shaping key initiatives. She’s spent the past year putting legal processes in place, focusing on legal compliance, planning for accelerated growth, expanding into new markets, and more.
“I have worked with the company for over fifteen years and Branden is the absolute perfect fit,” says Aaron Stanton, partner at Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella. “Her experience in real estate, compassion, dynamic personality, keen legal mind, and street smarts gives her the tools to take the company to the next level. She is a fantastic lawyer and an even better person.”
As the company’s first general counsel, Lopez admits that balancing all those responsibilities and building the legal infrastructure has been exciting and challenging. To keep track of it all, she takes a legal pad with her wherever she goes and takes a copious amount of notes.
“Every day, I write down the things I need to focus on,” she says. “And every day, I go back to review them. I also take a few minutes each morning to visualize my day and set reminders and follow-ups.”
Lopez’s advice for young people wanting to succeed is that “success is not linear.”
“It’s wonderful to have lofty goals and ambitions but leave some room for the uncertainty,” she advises. “You never know where life will lead you. You don’t have to be at a certain point at a certain time. Everyone’s road is different. Take as many opportunities as you can to speak to others, tell them what you want, and listen to their advice. You never know who you’ll run into and where it will lead you.”