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The Black General Counsel Project: Edward Jones Investments’ Chris Lewis

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

Chris Lewis, the general counsel of financial services company Edward Jones Investments, said he’s seen in-house hiring searches emphasize individual capabilities more than prior industry experience, a shift that can push corporate America to tap more Black talent.

“There are numerous talented Black lawyers and leaders who can fill general counsel and other senior roles in companies and hopefully this is only the beginning of those opportunities,"Lewis 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.

Lewis joined St. Louis-based Edward Jones in 2007 as a principal and deputy general counsel, and he was named general counsel in 2015.

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?

Chris Lewis: We are focused on supporting our associates and clients through the disruptions of Covid-19—the changes, challenges, and impact of shifting communication and interactions to a virtual environment for colleagues and investors. We also are focused on the actions we need to take within our firm and in our communities to create equity and a sense of belonging for all.

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

CL: Absorb leadership lessons from everyone around you, not just your mentors. Be guided by strong ethics and morals. Be a careful and empathetic listener. Lead with confidence, curiosity, and humility. And most of all, always be yourself.

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

CL: Do it—the depth and nuance of working in a single company and industry is demanding, always interesting, and extremely satisfying. If you are someone who wants public service and community engagement to be an important part of your contribution to the profession, being in-house allows you to remain involved. I’m proud to serve on the boards of several community organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, St. Louis Children’s Hospital Foundation, and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

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

CL: As a lawyer of color, there are rarely straight lines in terms of career progression. Investing the time and doing the hard work to excel in the profession is worth it, but the end is rarely visible from the starting gate. Commit to always learning and growing and be open to opportunities that come your way, however they may present themselves.

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?

CL: Real change requires intentionality, and I believe that is what we are experiencing—in the legal community and in companies. The Black General Counsel Initiative 2025 should be commended for drawing current attention to the need and opportunity. A welcomed observation is the increased focus in job searches on the capabilities of talented lawyers and leaders generally, with less emphasis on defaulting to prior experience in a specific industry or area. There are numerous talented Black lawyers and leaders who can fill general counsel and other senior roles in companies and hopefully this is only the beginning of those opportunities.

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

CL: It is our stated expectation that law firms who partner with us engage diverse teams to do our work. We are willing to invest in relationships for the long term so that diverse associates and junior partners can get to know us and our business over time and develop deep relationships with their counterparts in-house. We measure by actions, not words—firms that do not take these commitments seriously are not taken seriously by us.

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

CL: Through the pandemic we have learned that our teams can perform their work at the highest level with more flexibility in their workday than we believed before. Our ability to better leverage technology to collaborate and share is also helping us to rethink how we construct our teams, when and whether it is critical to have geographic proximity. As we consider building teams without the previous geographic constraints it broadens our pool for diverse talent that we can attract to our team.

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: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com;
Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com

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