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SEC Names Harvard Professor as General Counsel

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What You Need to Know

  • Harvard University law professor John Coates was named SEC general counsel.
  • Renee Jones becomes the first Black woman to lead one of the SEC’s four major divisions.
  • Both Coates and Jones will take on their new roles effective June 21.

Harvard University law professor John Coates was named general counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday, following a four-month stint as acting director for the division of corporation finance.

Taking Coates’ previous SEC position in that division will be Boston College Law School’s Renee Jones, the first Black woman to lead one of the SEC’s four major divisions. The move comes on the heels of new SEC Chairman Gary Gensler’s April Senate confirmation.

Coates joined the regulatory body’s Investor Advisory Committee in 2016. During his time at the Division of Corporate Finance, Coates pushed for transparency and innovation in environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosures.

“We can and should continue to adapt existing rules and standards to the realities of climate risk, for example, and the fact that investors increasingly are asking for ESG information to help them make informed investment and voting decisions,” Coates said in a March statement.

More rigorous ESG regulations are expected under the Biden administration. General counsel for public companies are often tasked with overseeing ESG efforts, or at least helping to implement them.

Both Coates and Jones will take on their new roles effective June 21.

“In only two months, I’ve come to rely upon John’s deep expertise and judgment, traits that are essential in the role of General Counsel,” Gensler said in a statement Monday.

Coates also leaves behind a lucrative consulting career with the move. Recently released financial statements revealed in March that Coates has received more than $1.57 million in fees and income for consulting work for such clients as Big Law firm White & Case, Twitter Inc., M&T Bank Corp., and Cornerstone Research.

Coates swore off the income when he joined the SEC, documents also showed.