“Many may think of being in-house as easy and uninteresting. I would tell them that it is anything but easy and uninteresting,” Beazer 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.
Beazer joined Cleveland-based KeyBank, the primary subsidiary of KeyCorp, in 2018 as deputy general counsel and was appointed general counsel in January 2020. Previously, he was deputy general counsel for The Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and Bank of America. He began his career at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.
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?
Craig Beazer: This year—specifically from March forward—our focus at KeyBank has been supporting our clients, colleagues, and communities amid Covid-19. This work has ranged from how to equip teammates to work remotely, ensuring privacy considerations are upheld, and a great deal of human resources-related projects.
BL: What’s the best leadership advance you’ve gotten, from mentors or others?
CB: Something I was told early in my in-house career, and I have shared with colleagues over the years, is to seek out stretch assignments. I’ve benefited from smart risk-taking throughout my career by getting noticed and advancing my skill set. You may never be 100% qualified for a given job or role, but you can always bring your confident best self and best work to the role. In other words, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
BL: What advice would you give to lawyers who want to go in-house?
CB: Many may think of being in-house as easy and uninteresting. I would tell them that it is anything but easy and uninteresting. It is very engaging, intellectually stimulating, and it is not a walk in the park. The same diligence and mindset required at a law firm is applicable in-house.
The other advice I would give is not to underestimate having one client and being part of that client.
BL: What do you wish you knew at the beginning of your career that you know now?
CB: There are a lot of peaks and valleys, and knowing that enables you to maintain an even keel and a consistent demeanor which always helps to moderate your own expectations and those of your client.
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?
CB: As in other areas, there were predecessors—who were successful—and who have paved our path, making it easier for those of us who have followed. Black general counsel owe a debt of gratitude to those who endured and succeeded before us.
It helps that now diversity, equity, and inclusion are initiatives companies recognize, reflect upon, and genuinely take action on with sincerity and emphasis from executive management.
I would tell you that being a general counsel at an organization such as KeyBank, I am proud of the journey we are on to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for our colleagues, our clients, and our communities. I know that I can bring my authentic self to work every day.
BL: When you are looking to hire outside counsel, how does diversity come into play in your evaluation of law firms?
CB: We are intentional, and keeping diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of retaining external counsel is important to the success of our team and of KeyBank. When I meet with law firms, I stress the importance of having diverse counsel involved in a meaningful way on our matters. We then verify our efforts through our legal invoice intake mechanism, which enables firms to specifically note diverse lawyers billing on our matters. We have also used diverse firms on engagements.
BL: What opportunities or changes has the pandemic brought to your job and your team?
CB: The pandemic has pushed our team to work more in the human resources space. We have also had to be more purposeful in our collaboration, as we can no longer simply walk down the hall to speak to a colleague. Additionally, I have focused my leadership team on the extra attention necessary to managing remote teammates and navigating to find the best style for doing so.
Questions by Ruiqi Chen and Lisa Helem.