Updated: Jan 8, 2021
Cristal Torres DeHerrera’s parents came from humble beginnings in Mexico and East Los Angeles and instilled in her the value that money is not the most important barometer of a person’s success, but the impact that one has on one’s community. They also taught her that her future was in her hands and the mentality of being “hungry.” Taken to protests and other community events by her parents, DeHerrera grew up active in the community and was always passionate about politics. All of this led DeHerrera to embark on a nontraditional career path that will serve as an inspiration to many new attorneys.
When considering a career path, DeHerrera was torn between attending law school or business school, but ultimately chose to study law at Berkeley School of Law. After graduation, DeHerrera went to work in “big law,” practicing in the M&A and Securities group at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck while also juggling the demands of caring for an infant. She recounts that one of the most valuable experiences she had early in her career was when she took one of her firm’s partners to lunch and asked the partner to tell her candidly how she could be better and improve. While it was difficult to hear at the time, DeHerrera took the partner’s advice without being defensive and embraced this growth period in her career. She now tries to give the same type of feedback to the teams she leads, and hopes to get honest feedback from them in return. DeHerrera points out that her clients were also incredible mentors and inspired her to problem solve from both a legal and business standpoint. She recommends being proactive in seeking out a variety of mentors and also being a good mentee, including being respectful of your mentor’s time.
DeHerrera admits that there are challenges working in male-dominated fields like law and aviation. In 2019, a woman can put on a suit and there is still a question mark. To overcome this, she advises being excellent at your craft. Young attorneys should also cultivate a “boardroom presence” early to send a message that they are professionals and there to be taken seriously. She actually finds that it can be an advantage to be underestimated, and does not hesitate to pull the carpet out from under those who do not see her coming.
In 2013, after DeHerrera had been voted in as a partner at Brownstein, she was recruited by Mayor Michael B. Hancock to join his administration as Deputy City Attorney for the Denver City Attorney’s Office. She wasn’t sure the time was right because she was happy at Brownstein, but in 2014 she made the leap and the risk paid off. Her younger cousin had recently been killed, and it was a watershed moment that caused her to re-evaluate her priorities. Serving as Deputy City Attorney allowed her to focus on public service, and on a personal note, honor her cousin’s memory by serving others. She also had the opportunity to work with Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson, whom she credits an incredible leader and thought partner.
DeHerrera was a 2015 CWBA Foundation honoree and says the CWBA has been important in her career. When she first moved to Denver, she only knew her husband and his immediate family. Organizations like the CWBA and Colorado Hispanic Bar Association (she was the winner of the 2017 Chris Miranda Outstanding Hispanic Lawyer Award) helped her to form relationships and engage meaningfully with the Denver community. She emphasizes the importance of these relationships and how important it is for new attorneys to develop these connections.
Now, DeHerrera’s nontraditional career path has landed her as Chief of Staff at Denver International Airport, the number two behind CEO Kim Day. Having been at DIA since April 2018, she describes the airport as a city within a city and Colorado’s port to the world. The airport will be celebrating its 25th anniversary, and DeHerrera loves working with Day to prepare the airport for the next 25 years. As part of DIA, she sees herself as an ambassador for Denver around the world and a steward of this great public asset. During this time of sometimes harsh and divisive rhetoric, she feels the responsibility of being a leader that unifies airport stakeholders around creating better opportunities for Colorado’s communities and businesses here and abroad. She counts each day as a blessing and is inspired by Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s vision.
Even after accomplishing so much, DeHerrera —now a mother of three — feels like she still has her whole career ahead of her and that she has barely scratched the surface. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but that is exactly what she finds most exciting.
Kate Noble is a CWBA Publications Committee member and a legal editor with Colorado Bar Association CLE, the nonprofit educational arm of the Colorado and Denver Bar Association