Lisa Gok

Is the CLO Willing to

Wash the Windows at Cetera

Chief Legal Officer Lisa Gok continues to find new ways to grow in her profession at Cetera Financial Group as well as in her personal life

Billy Yost

Photo + Video by
Cass Davis

Lisa Gok and her career exploits have been well noted in the pages of Modern Counsel. Her early days as an assistant United States attorney might as well be their own television series, and when she decided she needed a calmer change of pace, she transferred to the SEC to shut down Ponzi schemes and other financial frauds. Not exactly a walk in the park.

But over the course of a decade, Gok has continued evolving at an incredible rate. The rugged litigator has become something she never imagined: a mergers and acquisitions (M&A) attorney. “I don’t think you’ll meet many litigators who turn into M&A lawyers,” Gok says, laughing. “But that is so much of what I do now. I just love learning new things. That’s what keeps my life interesting.”

Gok stepped into the chief legal officer role at Cetera in May 2022, having previously grown through deputy and general counsel duties. Cetera has offered Gok the chance to grow in a million different directions, but it’s also offered her the chance to continue to build teams, one of the CLO’s true hallmarks.

“I think I’m a natural team-builder,” Gok explains. “I put a team together at the SEC. I built a whole compliance team at Transamerica Financial Advisors. I had the chance to really rebuild my team when I got to Cetera.”

The CLO says she’s probably put a thousand witnesses in front of grand juries over the course of her career, so reading people is more than helpful—it’s crucial. Gok jokes that her hiring record may not be perfect, but her average is strong.

That begs the question, what does a CLO who used to take down drug traffickers and fraudsters at all hours of the day look for from a highly performing corporate legal team in an organization that has doubled in size when she first arrived in 2012?

Her answer is one that those at Cetera have heard maybe hundreds of times at this point. “You have to be willing to wash windows,” Gok says. “I don’t look for people who put a box around what they do and refuse to step outside of it. Whatever needs to be done, I’ll do it. And I want a team that approaches their role the same way.”

I just love
learning new

That’s what keeps my life interesting.

Gok remembers a day back at the SEC when her team worked overnight to secure a temporary restraining order to freeze funds and return them to victims who had been scammed. Gok’s team was there all night, and she was the one ordering pizza to keep her team going.

The CLO knows she will never ask someone else to do something she wouldn’t herself do and so does her team. That kind of credibility goes a long way. And while Gok’s past might paint her as a tough-talking litigator, she says she leaves the tough talk for when it’s necessary. She’d rather operate with the golden rule—treating others the way one wants to be treated themselves—guiding her.

Gok also looks for those who have passion in their lives. For the CLO, that passion plays out by partnering with organizations like Kidsave, a nonprofit dedicated to finding families for older children who hope to be adopted.

“I’m always impressed when candidates have taken time to work with organizations or alma maters or just find some way of being of service,” Gok says. “I look for individuals that just seem like good people and can demonstrate that with some action they’ve taken in their lives.”

Through that team-building, continuous M&A activity, and ongoing evolution, Gok says there has been a noticeable shift in the legal team’s attitude over the years. The CLO had a colleague who left the company only to return a handful of years later.

“I remember her saying, ‘Things just aren’t sleepy anymore,’ which I thought was a great way to explain it,” Gok explains. “We were maybe half the size we are now, and at present, we’re just going gangbusters at all times.”

I’m always impressed when candidates have taken time to work with organizations or alma
maters or
just find some way
of being of service. I look for individuals that just seem like good people and can demonstrate that with some action they’ve taken in their lives.”

Gok says she has complete trust in the three deputies who report to her, all of whom she hired herself. This trust in aptitude gives Gok the time to engage in the kind of projects that are most meaningful to her: big picture work. As the CLO has risen through Cetera, direction and strategy have played an increasingly larger part of her role, and it’s where the attorney finds the most satisfaction now.

That strategy is incredibly important given just how heavy Cetera’s acquisitional appetite has remained in recent years. With Cetera’s massive list of financial advisors, she says it’s a tribute to the organization’s integration team that many have been able to continue their day-to-day efforts without realizing just how large their organization has grown to.

“We’ve been doing one acquisition after another, and our integration team has gotten very good about making sure we’re not disrupting the lives of the advisors that we already have here,” Gok explains. “We just integrated a large group of independent advisors recently, and we didn’t hear one word of complaint from our current advisors. That’s what you want. Our operations, transitions, and training teams deserve a lot of that recognition for finding great ways to get everyone on the same page.”

These positive collaborations extend beyond the firm, too. Lou Spadafora, founder of Winget, Spadafora & Schwartzberg, LLP, speaks proudly of Gok. “Since the time we began working together over a decade ago, what has impressed me most about Lisa is her insight and resourcefulness,” Spadafora says. “She has the innate ability to see the result early, and the focus to bring it to fruition. It has been a great pleasure working with Lisa.”

With Gok’s M&A work not seeming to end any time soon, it’s a wonder she has a life at all outside of her role. But the CLO still finds time to golf a few rounds. Gok came to golf later in life, and only learned it after she figured out just how many deals were being done on the fairway. But now she’s a bona fide golf enthusiast.

And if she’s not on the green, Gok is likely tending to more than twenty-five orchids that currently adorn her family’s home. She initially inherited a few from her father after he passed away, but the CLO has now become something of an “orchid whisperer” to those in the know. Litigator turned M&A expert. Lawyer turned golfer. Athlete turned floriculturist. Gok keeps finding new ways to surprise even herself.

Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.:
“As chief legal officer for Cetera, Lisa has unparalleled legal experience in both the public and private sectors. She is an excellent analytical thinker and a fierce negotiator who is masterful at building strategic relationships that bring immense value to her organization.”
–Robert Erzen, Area Executive Vice President

Foley & Lardner LLP:
“Cetera CLO Lisa Gok’s matchless legal knowledge and experience make her the consummate strategic player in the wealth management industry. She’s a brilliant thinker, and she really knows how to get things done.”
—Phillip M. Goldberg, Partner

Saretsky Hart Michaels + Gould P.C.:
“Lisa Gok is an outstanding chief legal officer. She couples vast legal expertise with superb business acumen, peerless judgment, and inspiring leadership skills in serving as trusted adviser and adding tremendous value to the Cetera enterprise.”
–Gary Saretsky, Attorney

Caring for Orchids with Lisa Gok


Melaina Cecilia de la Cruz

Rebecca Kang

Photo Manager + Video Director
Cass Davis

Web Developer
Jose Reinaldo Montoya