MY WASHINGTON — Winter 2009

William B. Pollard III, AB ’70 (Photo: Jennifer Weisbord, BFA 92)

A Distinguished Graduate Remembers Where He Got His Start

Bill Pollard clearly recalls the moment he decided to become a lawyer. “Senior year at Washington University, I took a walk across campus one cold afternoon in February. I was trying to decide between law school and graduate study in economics. From my reading about Thurgood Marshall and other distinguished lawyers, I had learned something about the law and what it could accomplish, and I decided that being a lawyer would be a better fit for my interests.”

Pollard went on to a legal career that has included leading roles in complex commercial disputes, white-collar criminal cases, and grand jury and regulatory investigations. Today he is a Manhattan attorney and partner in the litigation boutique firm Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard. He has twice been named a New York Super Lawyer.

Student leader
Pollard grew up in St. Louis and graduated from Saint Louis University High School. At Washington University he majored in political science in Arts & Sciences, but it was an economics professor, Marshall Hall, who really engaged his interest. “Professor Hall was the kind of great teacher who would sit down with students and debate ideas. He injected facts into the discussion that really made you step back and think.”

Pollard credits both Hall and the late Steven Schwarzschild, professor of philosophy, for inspiring students to strive for excellence. “Professor Schwarzschild taught us to think rigorously. He insisted that we do the work and do it well, and he set standards that still serve me today. And his wife made the best coffee I’ve ever had.”

Pollard thrived academically, but he recalls: “There were only three black students in my class. While the classes behind me had more students of color, there still was a sense of isolation on campus.” Pollard became an officer in the Association of Black Collegians. “There were many professors and administrators I came to respect and admire as teachers, educators, and individuals—particularly Chancellor Thomas Eliot, Vice Chancellor Lattie Coor, and others who believed that the University needed to grow and lead.”

Pollard in turn earned the respect of faculty, administrators, and his classmates, and he was chosen as the Commencement speaker in the spring of 1970. He finds the student body very different today. “Not only is there much greater diversity, but the students show amazing breadth and depth of intellectual curiosity. My father used to say that knowledge is cumulative and generational—we know more than our parents did, and students today are building on what we learned. One of the constants at Washington University is the intense involvement with students as individuals. The University is dedicated to helping students succeed, and that hasn’t changed in 40 years.”

Legal career
After graduation Pollard headed for New York City, where he earned both a JD and an MBA from Columbia University in 1974. During law school he had a summer job at the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. There he met his mentor, Arthur L. Liman, the acclaimed litigator who later served as chief counsel to the Senate’s Iran-Contra investigation. Pollard recalls Liman’s encouragement. “Arthur took me to dinner one evening, and he said, ‘Do whatever you want to do after you graduate, but first come back to the firm and learn how to be a lawyer.’”

Pollard followed that advice, and he returned to the Paul, Weiss firm after finishing law school. “Arthur had a large role in shaping my early career,” Pollard says. “At that time, young associates were taught the art and craft of practicing law. I had opportunities to write, go to court, take depositions, and help plan strategy. Not too many young lawyers at large law firms have that opportunity today.”

In 1981, Pollard was appointed a federal prosecutor at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, consistently the venue for many of the country’s most important cases. “I became a prosecutor to learn to try cases,” he says. “Many lawyers serve for just a few years, but I stayed for 11. One interesting thing after another came up.”

In 1988, Rudolph Giuliani, then the U.S. attorney, promoted Pollard to deputy chief of the criminal division. The office was aggressively prosecuting cases against organized crime, economic crime, and public corruption, and Pollard became an expert on asset forfeiture law and the effects of money laundering on financial institutions. He received the Postal Inspection Service’s highest award for determining how the Medellin and Cali drug cartels were using the Postal Service and airborne couriers to smuggle millions of dollars to South America, and for prosecuting those involved.

In 1993, Pollard joined three of his old friends from Paul, Weiss in a firm now known as Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard, LLP. The firm represents corporations and individuals in a wide range of civil and commercial cases, dispute resolutions, government and corporate investigations, and white-collar criminal matters.

Giving back
“I’ve had a very interesting life, and Washington University is one of the institutions that helped make it possible,” Pollard says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute.”

Among Pollard’s many contributions to the University is serving as a member of the Arts & Sciences National Council for 13 years. He continues to serve as a member of the Black Alumni Council and the New York Regional Cabinet. Since 2006, he has chaired The Tie That Binds, a scholarship giving initiative of African-American alumni. In 2005, Arts & Sciences honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Award, and the University recognized him with a Distinguished Alumni Award at Founders Day in 2007.

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton says: “Bill Pollard is one of our most distinguished graduates and a wonderful friend of Washington University. His professional achievements have significantly benefited society, and his generosity gives today’s students the opportunity to achieve their aspirations.”

Pollard and his wife, Renée, have sponsored an annual scholarship in Arts & Sciences since 2001. They recently established the William and Renée Pollard Endowed Scholarship in Arts & Sciences. In 2007, they established the William B. Pollard, Jr. and Helen Proctor Pollard Endowed Scholarship at Saint Louis University High School in honor of his parents, both of whom were educators in the St. Louis Public Schools. The Pollards are Fellows and Life Members of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society.

Pollard says, “What I learned as an undergraduate at Washington University, inside and outside the classroom, is one of the cornerstones in my foundation of life experiences that have allowed me to have professional success and live an interesting and blessed life. Washington University truly is a special place, one made by special people, past and present.”

—Susan Wooleyhan Caine