Alumni Interrogatory: Caroline A. Crenshaw ’09
Caroline A. Crenshaw ’09 was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as a commissioner of the Securities & Exchange Commission in August. She occupies one of two Democratic seats on the five-member bipartisan commission. Prior to becoming a commissioner, Crenshaw worked at the SEC for seven years. She also serves as a captain in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
You worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission for seven years before becoming an SEC commissioner. What was your role then?
I began my career as a staff attorney, helping oversee institutions that manage millions of Americans’ savings. As counsel to Commissioners Kara Stein and Robert Jackson, I advised on a wide range of legal and policy issues including rulemaking, enforcement matters, and other SEC actions.
What types of legal experiences have you had as a captain in the U.S. Army JAG Corps?
I have provided legal assistance to soldiers on matters ranging from landlord/tenant questions to family law issues to appeals of soldiers’ evaluations. I have represented soldiers in internal administrative and inspector general investigations. Currently, I draft appellate briefs for criminal law matters that are submitted to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Can you describe your role as a SEC commissioner? What are you most looking forward to as you begin this chapter?
I’m looking forward to advocating for ordinary American families who are the backbone of our economy. I come to this job not just as a securities lawyer, but as a soldier, sister, and new mother. I want to make sure my fellow soldiers, our families, and millions of American families have a fighting chance to achieve the financial futures they deserve.
You were appointed to a “Democratic seat” on the SEC. What does that mean?
The Securities Exchange Act provides that the five-member commission can have no more than three commissioners from the same political party. Because we are in a Republican administration, there are three Republicans and two Democrats. I hold one of the Democratic seats. Despite this composition, most commission actions are bipartisan.
Is being an SEC commissioner something you ever envisioned for yourself in law school?
No. Although I loved Administrative Law with Professor Kristin Hickman, I intended to practice criminal law. But I was put in the securities litigation group when I started in private practice, and I honestly found the federal securities laws interesting and intellectually stimulating. When I started at the SEC, I saw how our work impacts all Americans.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the SEC and/or the start of your tenure as a commissioner?
The SEC has remained fully operational during the COVID pandemic and has continued to pursue its mission. With most of the staff teleworking, the SEC has been continuously, and without interruption, monitoring markets to ensure they function properly, protecting investors from COVID-related investment scams, and providing market participants relief they need to continue their operations.
What are a few of the major challenges facing the SEC today?
There are many. The most immediate is managing the impact of the COVID pandemic. Climate change and associated risks for companies and investors is another. Finally, the nation faces a retirement crisis. With investment decisions now largely in the hands of individual Americans rather than pension plan professionals, the SEC should do all it can to ensure everyone gets a fair deal.
Do you think it’s important that there be diverse perspectives in the upper echelons of the government?
Diverse perspectives in the upper echelons of both government and the private sector is crucial. It improves our understanding of issues and, ultimately, leads to better decision-making and outcomes. To me, having diverse perspectives doesn’t just mean having people with different opinions; it means having people with different experiences and backgrounds.
What was your favorite experience at Minnesota Law?
My UMN experience is replete with fond memories—both joys and challenges. The dedication of the faculty and the collegiality of my classmates stand out. My professors cared deeply about their students and were passionate educators. That was evident every day. The friendships I made with Section D classmates will last the rest of my life.
In reflecting on your career path, what advice would you offer to a law student today?
First, find work that is meaningful to you. If you do something you are proud of and that brings you emotional and intellectual fulfillment, long hours feel manageable. Second, find a mentor you trust, who believes in you, and who is willing to impart knowledge and wisdom. Third, be open to any experience. I never thought I would practice securities law and today I’m an SEC commissioner.
Minnesota Law seeks to cultivate lawyer-leaders. Can you describe what being a lawyer-leader means to you? What skills are most necessary?
Effective lawyers are good at their work and represent clients well. Lawyer-leaders care about their team, colleagues, and the broader community. They promote and support their team while providing honest feedback and guidance; accept criticism, understanding they are not always right; and take responsibility when things go wrong but give credit to others when things do go well. They also strive to have a positive impact on society at large.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I try to find time in the mornings or on weekends to go to the playground, pool, or park with my husband and our toddler. If we can, we find cement mixers, backhoes, or helicopters to watch too. I also make sure I read a few pages of a novel every night.
In these stressful times, what do you do to promote wellness?
The Army requires a regular physical fitness test. Given that, I do resistance training weekly, and I try to squeeze in a run or a swim when I can. I would prefer to get my exercise playing tennis, soccer, or lacrosse, or horseback riding, but unfortunately I find less time for those activities these days.
What are a few interesting items one might see on your desk or hanging on your office wall?
My college lacrosse varsity letter. Despite struggling with injuries and playing time, I learned the importance of responding positively to adversity and doing my best no matter what. Those years taught me never to give up. Additionally, I have an Army award on my desk. It reminds me every day of the importance of teamwork and camaraderie.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The hard work I did at UMN helped create professional opportunities for me for years to come. Speaking to current students, I’d urge you to try hard, spend time learning about and from your classmates, and think about how after you graduate you can make an impact in your job, community, and country.