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The Black General Counsel Project: Aflac’s Audrey Boone Tillman

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

Aflac Inc.'s general counsel and executive vice president Audrey Boone Tillman said there will be more and more Black and other diverse general counsel as long as the pipeline remains diverse.

“GCs typically come from in-house staff, so as long as that pool remains diverse, the better the chances are that a Black attorney could receive the top spot,” Tillman said in a recent Bloomberg Law survey.

Black general counsel now make up over 5% of all general counsel in the Fortune 1000, a significant milestone tracked by the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative and first reported by Bloomberg Law. We reached out to over 50 Black legal chiefs whose companies were in the Fortune 1000 in 2019 or 2020 to learn more about their careers and diversity at the top of the legal industry and heard from 39 of them.

Tillman joined Aflac’s legal department in 1996. She became general counsel and executive vice president of the insurance company, based in Columbus, GA, in May 2014. Before Aflac, Tillman worked as an associate professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Law.

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Bloomberg Law: What are some key matters you and your team are working on right now?

Audrey Boone Tillman: One major matter that we are working on is our global compliance organization to make sure that it’s a holistic and comprehensive organization that fits the company’s function.

BL: What’s the best leadership advice you’ve gotten, from mentors or others?

ABT: The best advice I’ve received is when you find yourself working harder for someone else’s success than they are, it’s time to let it go.

BL: What advice would you give lawyers who want to go in-house?

ABT: If you’re considering going in-house, make sure that you want to understand and be of value to the company’s business. If you just want to provide legal advice, then a law firm is better suited for you.

BL: What do you wish you knew at the beginning of your career that you know now?

ABT: I wish I knew then that you don’t have to be perfect, just be excellent.

BL: Why do you think the number of Black general counsel has been on the rise? Have you observed any changes in the past few years that have contributed to recent increases in representation?

ABT: I think that the number of Black GCs are on the rise, because the number of Black in-house attorneys are on the rise. GCs typically come from in-house staff, so as long as that pool remains diverse, the better the chances are that a Black attorney could receive the top spot.

BL: When you’re looking to hire outside counsel, how does diversity come into play in your evaluation of law firms?

ABT: At Aflac in general, our practice is to make clear to any prospective vendors that we want our vendors to look like Aflac’s population. That fact always assures that even if there is not a minority owned group that is providing service, that they must at a minimum use a diverse team to service Aflac. Specifically in legal, we not only push our outside law firm to have teams composed of diverse lawyers to service Aflac, but we also actively recruit women and minority owned firms to represent Aflac.

BL: What opportunities or changes has the pandemic brought to your job and your team?

ABT: The biggest change from the pandemic is our ability to work successfully off-site. Personally I have always doubted that teams could be managed by a remote leader, but I have seen through the pandemic that that is not the case.

Questions by Ruiqi Chen and Lisa Helem.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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