Alumni Spotlight: Carlos von der Heyde (2007-2019; New York)

October 6, 2022

Cleary Gottlieb alumni often reflect upon their time at the firm with fondness and gratitude.

Carlos von der Heyde (2007-2019; New York), freelance fine art photographer, shares some of his thoughts below.

When were you at Cleary, what group were you in and why did you choose Cleary/the group?

I was at Cleary’s New York office from 2007 to 2019. I started as an international lawyer, then became an associate in 2009 and, finally, transitioned to a senior attorney position in 2014. I spent my first years in the Latin-American practice mainly doing capital markets, M&A, and sovereign work; as a senior attorney, I focused my time on the sovereign practice fully.

What attracted me to Cleary was its reputation as the leading international law firm in Latin America, particularly in sovereign finance. Being Argentine myself, I was excited to work at the firm that had represented my country in all of its capital markets, financing, and debt restructuring transactions for decades.

What skills did you learn or experiences did you have at Cleary that have served you well?

My years as a lawyer, particularly those at Cleary, provided me with skills that I will benefit from for the rest of my life. These abilities include collegiality and cooperation, personal leadership, creative problem resolution, a relentless work ethic, dealing effectively with other people, including in adversarial contexts, and oral and written presentation skills.

Also, dealing daily with colleagues and clients with different backgrounds, nationalities, sexual orientations and gender identities, spiritual beliefs, and political leanings gave me a broader understanding of how we are more similar than different, regardless of the divisive rhetoric that exists in the current social discourse.

Leaving the law for a career in photography sounds like a dream job. What do you enjoy most about photography?

Two thoughts that came to mind when you mentioned a “dream job.” First, I don´t see my change as “dream chasing” but more as following my gut; deep down I could no longer avoid the truth that I was dedicating my life to a job that didn’t feel like my purpose. Also, I don’t feel that photography is a job, or even work. When you love what you do for a living, it doesn’t feel like work! Don’t get me wrong, I’m putting a lot of energy, passion, and hours into my photography, but the process is so fulfilling and rewarding that I wouldn’t mind doing it all day every day for the rest of my life.

Photography is helping me to reformulate my outlook on life and change how I interpret myself and my surroundings. It forces me to be more conscious and deliberate about my search for meaning. This inevitably leads me to question limiting beliefs that negatively affect my daily life. The exercise of recording the world around me in images challenges my preconceptions and makes me realize that I’m in charge of the way I perceive things, which is a greatly empowering notion.

What’s the biggest misconception about being a photographer? 

I’m always surprised about how many people—including artists—believe that there’s some kind of correlation between negative emotions and creativity, as if the “best” art needed to come from a dark personal space. I think that we artists have a major responsibility in how we construct our discourse and the message we put into the world. I also believe that empowering and transformative propositions are necessary in these complex times, and that art can be critical yet uplifting. With that in mind, each time I start a new project, I ask myself: what perspectives and values will my photography contribute to this chaotic world we are living in? Will it be a part of the problem or of the solution?

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m in the final stages of a portraiture photo book documenting the psycho-spiritual impact that isolation during lockdown had on individuals across the globe (140 portraits in 35 countries across five continents). I conducted the entire project from my own confinement in NYC, photographing my computer screen with a reflex camera during videoconferences I held with each person or group.

I’m also continuing to work on “Souls of a Movement,” my ongoing photo-documentary project on the protagonists of the various social protests that have taken place and continue in NYC, Washington D.C., London and other cities since 2020, around racial justice, gender identity, bodily autonomy, freedom of speech, and other human rights issues. The series intends to provide a humanized depiction of the protestors, focusing on their emotional and psychological traits. Last June, I debuted an itinerant photography installation for this project at Chinatown Soup, a community art center in downtown NYC—Cleary organized a wonderful event for the Latin America practice´s summer associates at the space a couple of days after the opening! You can also find some images of these series in “ICP Concerned: Global Images for a Global Crisis” (a book published by the International Center of Photography in 2021), and in “Revolution is Love: a Year of Black Trans Liberation” (a collection that Aperture will publish in the coming months).

Do you have any favorite memories from your time at Cleary?

I could spend hours talking about fun anecdotes from my years at Cleary! But I’d rather focus on the simple moments that brought me so much joy over the years: my innumerable one-on-one, face-to-face conversations with folks at the firm about the things that we enjoyed in life, about our fears and struggles, about who we really were beyond our professional personas. These tended to happen during late nights at the office, business trips, office parties, or simply when we bumped into each other in the corridors. In particular, I cherish the “mentoring lunches” that I used to organize with juniors and international lawyers, regardless of whether we were working together. I think that it’s very important for workplaces, especially in an industry as competitive and time-demanding as “Big Law,” to organically generate spaces that serve as relief valves, where people can come together and have permission to be vulnerable and open up about personal issues.

What advice do you have for a young Cleary associate who may want to pursue a similar career path?

My career path has taken multiple unexpected turns over the years. Based on that experience, some pieces of advice that I believe can be useful for young people´s legal careers and for life in general are: chasing dreams and goals that don’t belong to you will only lead to frustration; growth goes hand-in-hand with overcoming fear and walking towards the unknown; it’s never too late to start all over again and as many times as you need; follow your heart and your intuition, as they know the way better than your mind; always pursue the path that feels right to you; find mentors and guides who empower you and have your interests at heart; know that the possibilities are endless, but it’s up to you to create them; and always, always, trust that you are on the right track.

What advice would you offer any young associate that you wish someone had offered you?

There are so many things that I would have done, or at least processed, differently if I had known better back then! For instance, it would’ve made such a great difference in my daily life at Cleary if someone had told me not to take things so personally, and to also see clients and partners with empathy and compassion because we never know what others are going through. It would’ve also been helpful to be more patient and understand that our careers, like our lives, are not sprints but marathons, and that we are not our circumstances but what we do with them. Finally, I would tell young associates to remind themselves each day that they are not their jobs, their titles, their paychecks, nor their professional achievements—what truly matters, at the end of the day, is whether they are evolving as persons.

Learn more about Cleary’s global alumni network here.