Distinguished Leader: Linda A. Lacewell

Laveta Brigham

Linda A. Lacewell Name a lawyer or mentor whose leadership inspired you. I learned how to prosecute wrongdoers as a federal prosecutor. But I learned how to generate systemic change and help real people with real problems in real time from Andrew Cuomo as Attorney General and that has guided […]

Linda A. Lacewell

Name a lawyer or mentor whose leadership inspired you.

I learned how to prosecute wrongdoers as a federal prosecutor. But I learned how to generate systemic change and help real people with real problems in real time from Andrew Cuomo as Attorney General and that has guided me ever since.

What is the best advice for someone considering a career in law, or someone already in the profession who is seeking to make a greater impact?

For me, I was the first person in my family to go to college. My mother came from an immigrant family. It wasn’t a clear path for me back then, but I knew that I wanted to be involved in justice in some way. I went to law school, became a defense attorney, then a prosecutor, and then I was lucky enough to work for the Governor when he was the Attorney General. Then I went to work for the Governor as Special Counsel, and became his Chief of Staff and Counselor, overseeing Executive Chamber operations, as well as ethics, risk, and law enforcement matters.

From there, I started to see what you could do systemically to bring about systemic justice, and that became very critically important to me. Justice has really led me on the path that I’m on and with the priorities that I do have.

I think now with the triple crises of public health, economy/jobs, and racial justice we are now seeing more than ever how critically important government is because government — our first job is protecting people, and we’ve got to generate opportunity for people. We’ve got to protect their health. We’ve got to bring racial justice, criminal justice, and we also have a responsibility to generate economic opportunity.

A great way to make impact and create change is through government.

Government work encourages and supports diversity, collaboration, teamwork and the ability to work on complicated, complex, sensitive and critical issues that have a real purpose and meaning.  And the positive impact you can have on consumers and everyday people is tremendous and meaningful.

Government needs your help.

So, if you have any interest, pursue it because we are one society.

As Mario Cuomo said, “We are one family of New York,” and now is the time for government to step up. Take a time out, take a year off, go work for government or some public interest, because this is a globally interconnected world on health, on climate change, on the economy, on opportunity, on justice of all kinds, for people of all kinds, and it takes all of us to improve the lot of all peoples in that regard.

You will never do anything more rewarding in your entire life than to help other people.

What are some of your proudest recent achievements?

My proudest achievements include:

  • Protecting New Yorkers and supporting safety and soundness of industry during COVID-19 as a member of Governor Cuomo’s COVID-19 Taskforce; the situation has been like nothing I’ve seen during my time in public service. The number of lives lost has been heart wrenching and devastating. It’s moments like this that show how important government truly is and make me humble and grateful to serve my fellow New Yorkers as a public servant.
  • Strengthening DFS’s reputation as a national leader in consumer protection, appointing the department’s first Consumer Advocate and Consumer Protection Task Force;
  • Protecting student loan borrowers – launching a Step Up for Students initiative, licensing student loan servicers and introducing a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights;
  • Supporting innovation and strengthened cybersecurity in the financial services industry by creating Research and Innovation and Cybersecurity divisions at the department;
  • Championing financial inclusion and diversity and economic justice – bringing bank branches into underserved areas across New York State, creating a committee to promote women leadership in financial services; and hiring a diverse and talented leadership team;
  • Fostering cooperation and collaboration with the department’s international counterparts to safeguard the global financial system and committed to fighting climate change. DFS is the first financial regulator, state or federal, to join the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS). We also joined the Sustainable Insurance Forum (SIF).
  • Contributing to New York’s progressive achievements by helping codify the Affordable Care Act and Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act into New York State law.

How are the business and profession of law changing, and how should lawyers adapt for the future?

The majority of DFS’ regulatory examinations have now moved online.

This is consistent with our “no silos” and “open doors” approach at DFS.  Breaking down barriers and ensuring a free flow of information across DFS has been essential during this crisis.

The pandemic forced every company to immediately adapt and transform its business model by using technology in different ways to serve and provide for its clients.

Law firms and lawyers needed to adapt to the new reality and connect with their clients in a fundamentally different way.  Moving forward, lawyers will need to continue to adapt to a new way of conducting the business of law, including how they interact with their clients, handle witness interviews, conduct depositions and trials, handle document review and appear in court and argue cases.

And as a result of the pandemic, there will be new issues for lawyers to tackle – including insurance coverage for COVID-19 losses, real estate challenges regarding the closing of buildings and health related lawsuits – to name a few.

Lawyers will have to be nimble and quickly adapt to this new normal and embrace technological advances or they will not be able to be competitive.

The former way of handling litigation will change and those law firms who are agile and can meet their clients demands will survive during these challenging and unprecedented times. The watchwords from this pandemic are resilience and innovation.

As I like to say, one must work to get it both right and fast, especially during triple crises in public health, the economy/jobs and racial justice.

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