In 2016, Chris Garvey, vice president and deputy general counsel at Fifth Third Bank, brought three decades worth of litigation, litigation operations, regulatory enforcement, and crisis management experience to the role. He also brought a leadership philosophy that’s not only kept the leader humble throughout his career but also helped his teams ground their work in a place of respect and purpose.
“Whether you’re in-house or at a law firm, everyone has a job to do and has a perspective born out of their experience that’s different than yours. You have to stay humble and be open to new ideas, input, and the fact that what you think may not always be right,” he says. “Leaders get in trouble when they become convinced that their way is the right way and the only way, but it’s important to seek input, have people challenge you, try to figure out what you don’t know, and empower your team to do the same.”
Garvey admits that his philosophy was tested during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the team to transform the way it operated, including how his colleagues stayed engaged with each other during stints of remote work. To navigate that difficult time, the team focused on collaborating and communicating.
They “manufactured opportunities to maintain connection” as Garvey puts it, checking in with each other every day, then two days a week and so on. Through those kinds of digital interactions, they found ways to foster the connections that everyone in the workplace took for granted before the pandemic.
“COVID really upended everything and forced us to think differently about a lot of things. Because of that we have to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish here and who we have to accomplish it with,” Garvey explains. “In some ways it’s been helpful. We went into it strong and came out stronger. We feel very cohesive and together as a litigation team.”
Garvey has wanted to be a lawyer for as long as he can remember. In high school and college, he pursued various opportunities that exposed him to what it meant to be a practicing attorney. In law school, he drifted toward litigation and after he graduated, he went on to gain a wide range of experiences at several firms. The diversity of matters he got a chance to take on is something he reflects fondly on.
“I worked on a lot of different things and got a lot of different skill sets. I took any matter that someone asked me to do or that was available. I often hear lawyers getting pigeonholed or so specialized that they don’t get to see the broader context,” he says. “I was lucky.”
Early on in his career, Garvey also developed a mind for constant improvement—a mindset that’s stuck with him as a leader.
“I learned to keep going and to keep trying to get better. Some people start and are naturals and that’s great. Others need time and it takes a while for them to get up to speed,” he explains. “It wasn’t until five or so years into my career that I could have a ‘been there, done that’ mindset, but even then, you just learn to keep going, to be humble to the work, put in the time, and to constantly learn new things.”
Garvey went on to serve as a Am Law 50 equity trial partner and a senior vice president and legal team lead at Bank of America responsible for solving unprecedented financial crisis exposures.
Now the deputy general counsel’s advice for young lawyers looking to succeed in their careers is twofold.
“Take time to enjoy what you’re doing and the people you work with. Yes, it’s a serious career but we’re lucky and privileged to be in a profession and to have people trust us,” he says. “Second, you can learn what to do and what not to do from everyone. Smart people learn what mistakes not to make from other people.”
Fifth Third Bank’s Big Wins
- Ethisphere’s World’s Most Ethical Companies (2023, 2022, 2021, 2019)
- Just 100: America’s Most Just Companies (2023)
- Wealth For Good Award (2023, 2022)
- Corporation of the Year (2022, 2021)
- Newsweek’s America’s Most Responsible Companies (2022, 2021, 2020)
Source: Fifth Third Bank