Brittany Ruiz: Breaking Barriers and Breaking New Ground

“My mother grew up in a very traditional Mexican household—she cooked and cleaned and wasn’t allowed to sit at the dinner table with the men,” says Brittany Ruiz ’13. “My father’s family is Puerto Rican. Men come first.” But her parents broke through barriers and paved the way for their smart, determined daughter to do the same.

Now, Ruiz is a partner with the global law firm of Latham & Watkins, where she works with a pioneering team that has redefined how privately owned companies can go public. She says she is living the kind of future her father foresaw for his daughter.

“When my dad came to visit my mom’s family at their home, he broke with tradition and invited her to sit at the table with him. My mother also defied tradition and ran away from home to go to college,” says Ruiz. “My parents invested in my education, and taught me the importance of standing up for myself and what I believed in. They believed in me and my potential.”

Though small in stature at 5’1” tall (“I’m always fighting against my looks!”), Ruiz never shied away from big challenges and credits her father—a U.S. Navy veteran and longtime Dallas, Texas, police officer—for helping her define and achieve her dreams. “When I was in elementary school and wanted to be a singer, he told me I could make more money being an agent,” she recalls with a laugh. “And then he said, ‘If you’re going to be an agent, you should go to law school because you’ll be dealing with contracts.’ By the time I was in high school, he had convinced me to major in accounting and become a tax attorney for a big law firm!”

Her first year at Cornell Law School proved to her the value of hard work. “I studied my entire time there, convinced that in order to land my dream job, I had to get the grades. I put in the time and learned that you can accomplish just about anything, if you do the work,” says Ruiz.

She took the same approach after graduation, getting her dream job at Latham. “I love her energy and her attitude,” says Latham partner and colleague Greg Rodgers. “Brittany is never shy about suggesting how a deal can be managed better or how a client might be better served. She has a keen eye for business development, but is also self-aware enough to know that as a young partner sometimes her highest value is in maintaining absolute excellence in work product and in training our associates. On that front, she is simply amazing. Brittany would never ask an associate to do something she has not done herself probably a hundred times. She takes a real interest in the associates that are willing to put in the work and the end result is that she is a mentor to some of our very best associates.”

“Saying ‘yes’ to opportunity and being available makes all the difference. Being able to give that extra 5 percent—on top of 100 percent keeps you at the top of the pile.”

Brittany Ruiz ’13

“It’s all about saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity,” says Ruiz. “Start with a ‘you-can’ mentality with everything you are asked to do. Being able to control my mental mindset allows me to do more than I ever thought I could.” When Latham offered the opportunity to work at its London office, Ruiz seized it. She did it for the adventure, but it meant she had to join the capital markets team to take advantage of the opportunity. She didn’t realize she was laying the foundation for more groundbreaking work.

Ruiz and her colleagues at Latham, including Rodgers, carved a unique position among securities lawyers, essentially inventing a new way to take a company public. They pioneered the direct listing structure in their representation of Spotify. “Prior to Spotify, there were really only two ways to go public, the traditional IPO (initial public offering) and through a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company),” explains Ruiz. The first IPO, she says, dates back to the 1600s with the Dutch East India company. “Not much changed until the 1933 Securities Act, and the first SPAC didn’t happen until the 1990s. It was time for something new.”

In a direct listing, a company’s shares are listed on a stock exchange without firm commitment underwritten offering. Existing shareholders, including employees and early stage investors, are free to sell their shares, but are not obligated to do so. There’s a powerful market-driven dynamic at play in each direct listing, which makes it extremely exciting.

“Most lawyers will never have the opportunity to create a new product. Latham accelerated the pace for the entire nation,” says Ruiz. As Latham itself noted, “If Spotify’s direct listing were a song, it would surely be at the top of the Today’s Top Hits playlist for 2018. Since Spotify first announced its intention to become a public company using this groundbreaking and innovative structure, it has generated enormous interest from the financial press and market participants.”

Ruiz proved herself to be a major contributor in this emerging product. “What really impressed me was Brittany’s interest in the novel legal issues presented to us on an almost daily basis on that first-of-its-kind transaction,” says Rodgers. “Since the success of the Spotify direct listing, Brittany has been an integral member of the very small team at Latham who has really driven the thought leadership around that method of going public.”

Ruiz also advised on, among others, the direct listings of Slack, Warby Parker, and Coinbase, in addition to taking companies public through the traditional IPO. Part of her success, Ruiz says, is being at the right place at the right time with the right people. During economic volatility, capital markets lawyers are swamped with work. Says Rodgers: “Brittany’s unparalleled organizational skills allowed her to stay on top of more deals than was honestly right, while her years spent training junior associates allowed those team members to come into their own.”

Ruiz loves to train and mentor. Every year, she returns to Cornell for the Annual Professional Development Boot Camp (which she helped launch as a member of LALSA, the Latin American Law Students Association) to connect students with alumni in private and public interest practice and open their eyes to options and opportunities.

“Brittany is a trailblazer and one of the most generous people I know,” says Karen McClendon ’13, her law school classmate, fellow Latina, Texan, LALSA member, and now associate general counsel for the International Rescue Committee. “We wanted Boot Camp to give students an insider’s view and the resources to help them succeed. Brittany gives back on every front, makes herself available, and finds the resources for those who need the support.”

Ruiz also imparts wisdom forged from hard work: “I tell them that it’s about being available to clients no matter what time of day or night, no matter how tired you are. The investment in time yields a long-term relationship. At Latham, we always say: ‘It’s not about the deal, it’s about the relationship.’”

Her wisdom comes with optimism—the kind her father gave to her. Tragically, he passed away from COVID caught in the line of duty shortly before Ruiz was named a Latham partner. In tribute to him, she finds herself helping young lawyers pave a path to success. “Saying ‘yes’ to opportunity and being available makes all the difference. Being able to give that extra 5 percent—on top of 100 percent— keeps you at the top of the pile.”