James Cole, Jr. is the general counsel, delegated the duties of deputy secretary of education.
In appointing him, then-Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. said Cole is "an extraordinary leader whose talents as a leader and manager, and whose commitment to educational achievement, access and opportunity for all students, make him the perfect person to take on this vitally important role."
Delegated the duties of deputy secretary on Jan. 28, 2016, Cole serves as the chief operating officer and chief legal officer, and oversees a broad range of operational, management, policy, legal and program functions at the Department. Cole also oversees the Department's work on President Obama's My Brother's Keeper Task Force, which seeks to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color, and to ensure that all young people are able to reach their full potential.
Cole, who was confirmed by the Senate as the Department's general counsel in December 2014, was the first in his family to graduate from college. He credits a high school English teacher with inspiring and convincing him to pursue higher education. Cole went on to receive his Bachelor of Science degree in finance with honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his J.D. from the University of Chicago, where he served as a comment editor of the University of Chicago Law School Roundtable.
Cole has held several previous positions focusing on educational achievement, access and opportunity for all students. From 2004 to 2011, he served on the board of directors of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. From 2005 to 2011, he also served on the board of trustees of Prep for Prep, a New York City-based youth leadership development program that identifies and prepares students of color for the rigors of independent day and boarding schools. In addition, he has mentored high school and college students since graduating from Dunbar Vocational High School, located on Chicago's South Side.
Prior to arriving at the Department, Cole served as the deputy general counsel of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) from 2011 to 2014. In this role he advised the secretary, deputy secretary and general counsel on legal, policy and program matters relating to DOT's 10 operating administrations, including the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Railroad Administration.
From 1996 to 2011, Cole worked at the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York City, where, in 2004, he became a partner in the corporate department. He has advised a broad range of public and private companies in a variety of industries in the United States and around the world.
Prior to joining Wachtell, Lipton, Cole clerked for the Honorable Stephanie K. Seymour of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.