The legal team at LGIM America is comprised of all women, including three Sidley alumni. Emma Rodriguez-Ayala (‘06, Chicago) is General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, Kristina St. Charles (‘11, Chicago) is Deputy General Counsel, and Laura Lyons (‘15, Chicago) is Assistant General Counsel. Janelle Ibeling recently sat down with Emma, Kristina, and Laura as they caught up on their shared Sidley connections and memories, their mentors throughout the years, and how to elevate young women within their industry.
Janelle: It’s really wonderful to see you and catch up with you. Obviously you all have the Sidley connection but you three didn’t overlap at Sidley, so how did you all find each other?
Kristina: This industry is so small. Emma and I had known each other for many years just by being in the Sidley network of in-house counsel. We didn’t know Laura as well, but another Sidley alum at another asset manager that was a client of Sidley, and who Laura serviced, told us Laura was amazing and that we would want to hire her. So none of us overlapped physically together, but our networks were very overlapped.
Janelle: Laura, how has it been for you as the newest team member and what has been the best surprise about going in-house?
Laura: It can be a bit daunting going from the firm to in-house, and it almost felt like a nice, warm, cozy home to join a team where we have the shared Sidley experiences, background, and training. We know what to expect of each other and it’s created a great environment. The work we did at Sidley is so complex and challenging, and I think I was a bit concerned about not feeling challenged. It’s been so eye-opening to see that there is a whole complex and different set of business and legal issues that we don’t send out to outside counsel. It’s just been a really cool learning experience over the past year, and that has been a great surprise.
(From left to right: Emma Rodriguez-Ayala, Janelle Ibeling, Laura Lyons, Kristina St. Charles)
Janelle: That actually dovetails nicely to my next question for Kristina. How do you work with the legal department and the other business functions?
Kristina: Building that trust and relationship with your business partners, your portfolio managers, operations team, and human resources are just so crucial. I think the more ingrained the legal team is with business, the more successful the business as a whole can be.
Laura: When you create that collaborative environment, they’re more inclined to come to you with questions which tend to snowball into things that they’re worried about. As a lawyer, it’s so important to get ahead of things and try to solve problems before they become issues.
Janelle: At Sidley, it can be very easy to identify who your mentors are. Emma, when you think about where you were when you first left Sidley to where you are now, who were your mentors during that process, both internally at the firm and outside of it?
Emma: Still the partners and associates with whom I worked at Sidley! We literally had a “support group” of Sidley Investment Products alumni who I still text with. Part of finding a mentor is finding people who understand your industry and the pressure you’re under, so you can speak the same language with them. I’ve never had somebody say no when I seek advice from them.
Kristina: I also maintain that strong Sidley connection by going to alumni events, and during the pandemic I have missed those people that I used to see more frequently. I always viewed my boss or others on the legal team as mentors, but in the last few years, it’s really expanded within the organization to other senior women. You can learn a lot from how they think about the business and grow not from a legal perspective, but from an operations or investment perspective, too.
Janelle: You have a legal team of all women. What do you think the industry as a whole, or any one person, can do to encourage younger women to come into this field?
Emma: I always find this a hard question because different people get to different places at a different time. Getting out and meeting these candidates is grassroots work – you have to have a pipeline of people who are diverse or women because there are still not enough of them in the investments industry. So building a diverse team requires that you incessantly track diverse talent as their careers progress, and use every potential hiring opportunity to bring them in. You have to be committed because it’s so easy to hire the first resume that lands in front of you.
Laura: There are all of these things you can do that move the needle a little bit. Sidley provided support when I first had kids and continued to help develop my career, even at a very challenging personal time. This type of support matters and helps to promote diversity.
Emma: Over 60% of our new hires are diverse, but it takes a really long time to shift that number, and to retain people. We’ve done all this great work to bring diverse people in, but it’s also a matter of how to keep them.
Janelle: What would you say to a young woman considering law school, or to somebody who might be a first generation college student?
Kristina: I was a first generation college student who went to law school. For me, it was all of the people around me who said “you can do whatever you want to do, you are bright, you are thoughtful, and do not worry about how you will pay for it or what will happen.” It was the guidance counselors and the parents of friends who were in the industry. I got my first internship at a law firm as a summer secretary because my next-door neighbor was an attorney.
It’s about not doubting yourself, even though no family members have done it before, and knowing that there are so many networking opportunities in college and law school to help you find your way. You don’t have to be shy about asking for help, or admitting that you don’t know something.
Laura: Those are my exact thoughts. Number one is to not be intimidated because most people don’t know what they’re doing either and they figure it out; they’re smart just like you and you’re going to figure it out too. Number two is to talk to a lot of lawyers. I only knew one lawyer, my father-in-law, who first took me aside and (jokingly) advised against law school, and then talked to me about his practice, introduced me to his network of lawyers, and facilitated further discussions, which all proved to be invaluable.
Janelle: What is your best memory or most valuable lesson from your time at Sidley?
Laura: I just felt really lucky to have been able to go through so many milestones with a really awesome group of people; like graduating law school, passing the bar, marriages, first homes and whatnot, so that would be my best memory.
Emma: That extends once you leave Sidley and the family you get here continues with your career. The people that are on my speed dial were in my Sidley class, and it’s because I know that they are experiencing what I am experiencing right now. They’ve seen what I’ve seen, so it’s sort of like a buddy system.
Kristina: This is so nostalgic. My mom would say that when you get back in the room with your real friends and you haven’t seen each other in a while, it’s as if no time has passed, and that’s how I often feel when I hang out with you guys and other alumni.
My advice is for people to speak up and advocate for themselves. I think it’s really hard because no one wants to be viewed as weak and wants to get it all done instead, but it’s detrimental to your health, to the work you’re producing, and to your ability to stay somewhere long-term and learn from the people around you.
Emma: I would also say that the service that Bill Kerr, Dave Sawyer, Bridget O’Neill (on tax), and Beth Dickstein (on ERISA) did to the investments industry is huge. Every investment management attorney I have hired has been a Sidley alum and that is not because I am biased towards Sidley, but it’s because Sidley produces a lot of really good investment management talent and the industry recognizes their expertise and client service. As we at LGIM America double down on our efforts to globalize and diversify across the investments industry, including innovating in the areas of ESG, retirement income solutions, and real assets, having attorneys in-house and as external counsel with this level of global expertise is a business imperative.
Published June 2022
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