Trailblazing Securities Lawyer Championing Diversity

Influential securities lawyer Sharon Nelles continues to blaze a path for the next generation of female lawyers while counseling on some of the highest profile securities cases in the world.

A partner with Sullivan & Cromwell in the firms’ Litigation Group and member of its Executive Committee, Nelles has been trailblazing for decades. As one of the most influential women in securities law today, her approach provides global resolution strategies for major corporations needing to navigate myriad legal proceedings. In 2015, she helped negotiate a then unprecedented $13 billion settlement on behalf of JPMorgan, ending huge swath of mortgage-backed securities related litigation.

“I have been fortunate to have had some amazing opportunities in my career, including serving as trial counsel for Microsoft in antitrust class actions, working with multiple clients facing an onslaught of litigation in the wake of the financial crisis, and now working with Volkswagen on TDI matters,” she said.

Despite her heavy caseload involving some of the firm’s largest clients and most complicated matters, she is steadfast in a commitment to diversity and inclusion, particularly as it relates to issues that affect women and LGBT lawyers. She said the most important quality a woman leader should have is the ability to trust her own voice. “Never be afraid to ask the tough questions,” she said. When she launched her career with the firm 20 years ago, it was rare to be a woman litigation associate who both had children and worked full-time.

As a member of the firms’ Management Committee, Nelles is active with the Women’s Initiative Committee, which seeks to enhance the experience of women lawyers at the firm by supporting efforts to recruit, retain, and advance their careers. Under her leadership, the firm established the Women in Law discussion series to move the conversation beyond the usual discourse around work-life balance.

She’s also a member of the firms’ Diversity Committee, under which she spearheaded the founding sponsorship of Out Leadership, an organization of senior LGBT and ally leaders in the financial services, legal, and insurance professions, who collaborate on initiatives that impact business results, develop talent, and drive LGBT equality forward.

Nelles represents pro bono clients who have experienced on-campus sexual assault and has been appointed by the American Law Institute to its project to develop procedural frameworks for addressing sexual and gender-based misconduct on campus.

She holds a bachelor degree from Mount Holyoke College, a master’s from New York University, and a law degree from Boston College Law School.