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The Black General Counsel Project: TIAA’s Phillip Rollock

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

Improved diversity at the general counsel level could lead to better diversity across the entire legal industry, including within law firms, according to Phillip Rollock, the chief legal officer of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, or TIAA.

“The rise in Black general counsel is a positive sign and bodes well for seeing similar increases in representation at law firms at all levels, including the partnership level, as in-house legal departments require diverse teams at law firms to service their corporations’ work,” Rollock 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.

Rollock joined New York-based TIAA in 1990 and became executive vice president and chief legal officer in 2018.

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?

Phillip Rollock: As a large global company, we are working on a full array of legal, regulatory, and government relations matters in support of the company’s mission and our various lines of business domestically and globally. Most recently our lawyers have provided legal advice and helped implement changes to comply with the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest, the SECURE Act, and the CARES Act, all in support of our business lines and the company’s participants.

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

PR: Marks of a true leader are the ability to grow and develop others to lead and the willingness to empower them to do so.

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

PR: My advice is: hone your professional skill set in your area(s) of expertise and target companies with in-house staffs where your expertise would be particularly valuable. Networking at bar association activities and through membership in other professional organizations is a great way to meet in-house lawyers and get a real sense of what the practice of law is like in-house and to identify potential job opportunities.

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

PR: One lesson that I have learned and truly appreciate is that sometimes the toughest assignments and the most challenging matters are, in the long-run, the most beneficial in terms of personal and professional growth. They call them “stretch assignments” for a reason.

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?

PR: Let me first say that the rise in Black general counsel is a positive sign and bodes well for seeing similar increases in representation at law firms at all levels, including the partnership level, as in-house legal departments require diverse teams at law firms to service their corporations’ work. Sustained, ongoing efforts to recruit, retain, develop, and promote diverse talent on the part of corporations has made for opportunities for first-rate, diverse legal talent to ascend to the top legal executive positions in-house.

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

PR: When engaging outside counsel, we look to partner with firms that share our longstanding commitment to inclusion and diversity. Having diverse outside counsel teams support our work is in keeping with our corporate value system. We believe that diverse teams—and that’s diversity across many dimensions—give us an advantage in coming up with the very best solutions to the often complex issues and matters we handle. Promoting inclusion and diversity is not only reflective of our values, but it makes for good business and legal outcomes as well.

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

PR: The pandemic has accelerated efforts we already had underway to leverage technology to work and collaborate in new and potentially more efficient ways. We have embraced emerging technologies that will keep us connected and productive wherever we happen to be working. More than anything, the pandemic has reinforced that the members of our team are extremely dedicated to TIAA, its mission, and our participants even under the most challenging of circumstances. And that is both gratifying and energizing.

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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