Grace Under Complexity: Protecting Private Investments for New York Life

Leading in-house counsel for the private debt investment arm of New York Life Insurance Company might sound perplexing, but Dora Jimenez makes it look easy

Many friends wonder why I can’t help them with visa issues, lawsuits, or divorces. I tell them, I’m not that kind of lawyer. They laugh and say, ‘What good is a law degree, if you can’t help anybody?’”

Dora Jimenez, associate general counsel at New York Life Insurance Company, admits that even people in the business world sometimes have difficulty understanding what she does.

“I provide legal counsel to private capital investors, the private debt investment arm of New York Life Investors, and to the public high-grade credit group of fixed income investors,” she says.

In order to understand the complexities involved in Jimenez’s role, one must have an understanding of what investor goals are. “One of the most important things I do is help our internal clients analyze investments, which includes helping them identify risks and negotiate better terms,” she says. “I also have to vet the disclosure documents, which are produced by the issuing companies. I make sure no material facts have been omitted and that they don’t contain any misrepresentations. For example, we need to know about any existing or potential litigation that could affect the issuing company’s profits or if they have violated any laws. These things could have a negative impact on the company and its ability to fully pay its debt.”

Jimenez says the issues that might cause problems down the road aren’t always apparent, but it’s her job to have foresight. “If your document states that the sky will always be blue, and the debt has a maturity of 10 years, the sky better still be blue in 2026, or issues may arise. You have to be very careful about the kinds of promises you put in writing,” she explains.

Her seven years as a corporate associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett gave her a broad range of skills and knowledge that she continues to tap into today. “I was fortunate to rotate through three different groups at the firm—capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, and banking and credit—which was great exposure and taught me a lot about finance, lending transactions, acquisitions, derivatives, and nondisclosure agreements.”

She ended up in the firm’s capital markets group, representing issuers and underwriters involved in high-yield/noninvestment grade transactions, an excellent training ground for the kinds of deals she works on now. If she ever comes across something she hasn’t seen before, Jimenez has several experts she can turn to at New York Life’s in-house legal department and throughout the company. “There are so many wonderful professionals here with diverse backgrounds who I can learn from,” she says.

Jimenez was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York when she was nine years old. Her parents then sent her back to the Dominican Republic for seventh and eighth grades, so she could strengthen her fluency in Spanish. “I’m so glad they did that,” Jimenez says. “Not only did it solidify my language skills, it boosted my math abilities, since precalculus was part of the school’s curriculum.”

She returned to New York for high school and college—attending the University at Buffalo–SUNY—and then got a job as a flight attendant with United Airlines. “I wanted to see the world,” she says.

Four years later, while still working for United, she enrolled in law school. “I had wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little girl,” she says. “I’m not sure why. I didn’t know any lawyers, but I saw on television how powerful they could be and how they could help ensure that people, even those without a lot of money or connections got justice and were treated fairly. I wanted to do that.”

“Once in law school, I realized I was interested in corporate law. I liked the complexities of the deals. I am very detail-oriented, which is what corporate legal work requires,” she explains.

Jimenez has been working since she was 14. During high school, she was a shopping center greeter. During college, she worked the midnight shift in a bank’s lock box department, processing remittances and payroll. “That job taught me how to work independently, pay attention to detail, and the seriousness of handling other peoples’ money,” she says. “I didn’t know it then, but it was a great foundation for what I do today.”

In her current position, Jimenez feels she is to draw upon skills she has developed over her lifetime, while continuing to learn new ones. “My job allows me to continuously grow with the company,” she says. “Even though some people might not understand what I do, I love my job and am focused only on doing it well.”