SEC

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On October 9th the SEC brought a settled administrative action against E*Trade Securities and G1 Execution Services (formerly E*Trade Capital Markets) for their part in the unregistered sales of billions of shares of penny stocks between 2007 and 2011. Suffice it to say that they weren’t the only ones. On the same day the Commission also (1) released FAQs on a broker-dealer’s duties on when trying to rely on the reasonable inquiry exemption when executing customer orders; and (2) issued a Risk Alert on broker-dealer controls regarding customer sales of penny stocks. The gist is, broker-dealers cannot turn a blind eye when executing its customers’ sales of securities of dubious or uncertain origin. These documents are all part of the SEC’s larger effort to focus on financial system gatekeepers and thereby save staff resources that would otherwise be spent chasing individual bad actors. What’s most interesting to me about the case and accompanying educational materials is how old the underlying principles are. The SEC has been preaching about broker-dealer oversight of little-known securities for literally half a century. And yet here we are.

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As reported this week by Law360 (subscription required), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently issued a reminder (Regulatory Notice 14-40) warning firms against the use of confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements that prohibit or otherwise restrict customers or anyone else (such as current employees) from communicating with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), FINRA, or any federal or state regulatory authority regarding a possible securities law violation.

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money in the hands

On July 23, 2014, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted 3–2 to significantly amend the regulatory framework of money market mutual funds (MMFs), particularly Rule 2a-7 under the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended (the 1940 Act).1 These changes come four years after the SEC last adopted several amendments to Rule 2a-7 and follow a lengthy debate surrounding MMF reform among regulators and industry participants. The amendments and related regulations will drastically alter the MMF industry and force MMFs and their boards of directors and advisers to make substantial changes to their product offerings, operations, and compliance processes.

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For a while, interest in the Dewey drama seemed to be flagging (at least according to our traffic statistics). But lately it has revived, thanks to the recent criminal charges against the firm’s former leaders, plus the arrival on the scene of Zachary Warren — a total Dewey & LaBoeuf-Cake.

Interest in Zach Warren has been keen — and not just because of his good looks. His tale seems to resonate with Above the Law readers because, as Matt Kaiser recently noted, “he seems like one of us.” Although Above the Law’s readership is expanding, with more than a million unique visitors a month, it’s still fair to say that a young lawyer, recently graduated from a top law school, is within ATL’s demographic sweet spot.

Over the past few days, we’ve learned more about Zachary Warren. Dewey want to share this knowledge with you? Of course we do….

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Over the years, we’ve covered many Biglaw employees who have been accused or convicted of insider trading. This should come as no surprise, given the confidential and market-moving information that regularly flows through the hallways and computers of leading law firms.

The latest accusations of insider trading involve a lawyer who worked at a white-shoe law firm. This individual stands accused of taking confidential information he was privy to by virtue of his work and passing it along through a middleman to a broker, who then allegedly traded on it. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the scheme generated over $5.6 million in illegal profits, with over $168,000 going to the Biglaw tipster.

At which elite law firm did this defendant work, and from which school did he receive his law degree?

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Dewey & LeBoeuf: back in the headlines.

Last week brought some good news for Georgetown University Law Center. In the latest U.S. News law school rankings, GULC moved up one spot to tie at #13 with Cornell. Go Hoyas!

Alas, over the past year the news has been less happy for some individual GULC students and graduates. About a year ago, former student Marc Gersen got sentenced to four years for meth dealing. Earlier this year, alumnus Stephen Glass got rejected for California bar admission, due to his notorious past as a dishonest journalist.

In recent weeks, a very accomplished (and handsome) GULC graduate, currently clerking for a federal appeals court judge, got indicted in connection with the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf. What Dewey know about Zachary Warren?

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There are so many interesting parts of the Dewey criminal charges, it’s hard to count them all.

For starters, there are the emails laid out by the SEC in its complaint, such as:

  • “I don’t see how we’ll get past the auditors another year.”
  • “I assume you [k]new this but just in case. Can you find another clueless auditor for next year?”
  • “I don’t know anything about [the contracts] and I don’t want to cook the books anymore. We need to stop doing that.”
  • “I don’t know. He’s starting to wig a little. Maybe he’s hearing and seeing too much . . . .”

Sadly for people and happily for prosecutors, regrettable emails are simply a fact of modern electronic life. Still, “I don’t want to cook the books anymore” has to be pretty high on the list of things that one is likely to regret putting in an email.

(These emails, and more, are collected in the Bloomberg piece by Matt Levine wonderfully titled “Law Firm Accountants Were Bad at Accounting, Law.”)

But, probably more interesting than these regrettable emails is what the Dewey prosecution can tell us about white-collar prosecutions in New York more generally….

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Dewey & LeBoeuf: it’s baaack (in the headlines).

Criminal charges are on the way for Steven Davis, Stephen DiCarmine, and Joel Sanders — the former chairman, executive director, and CFO, respectively, of defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Almost two years have passed since the Biglaw firm’s bankruptcy filing, causing some observers to think that perhaps the Steves would never get charged. The argument, in a nutshell: they might have been poor managers or even downright moronic, but they didn’t commit any crimes.

Alas, sadly for Messrs. Davis, DiCarmine, and Sanders, it seems that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance doesn’t agree with that line of thinking. What types of charges can the trio look forward to?

(Please note the UPDATES added to this post, reflecting information from the indictment and the SEC complaint.)

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Amy Chua: She’s baaaaaaack!

* “Either access to abortion will be dramatically restricted in the coming year or perhaps the pushback will begin.” We’re moving back in history. Here’s hoping pro-choice advocacy will be born anew in 2014. [New York Times]

* George S. Canellos, the SEC’s co-chief of enforcement, announced his departure on Friday, and people are already wondering whether he’ll return to his old stomping grounds at Milbank Tweed. [DealBook / New York Times]

* We hope legal educators had fun at the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting, but we hope most of all that they learned what needs to change to really make legal education pay. [WSJ Law Blog]

* “I believe women lawyers can contribute a lot to the legal system.” Saudi Arabia now has its first female law firm dedicated to bringing women’s issues to the country’s patriarchal courts. Congratulations! [RT]

* A Starbucks spokeswoman issued a defense to the cease-and-desist response letter that went viral worldwide, and it reads just like how her company’s coffee tastes: bland. [International Business Times]

* Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua is back with a vengeance, co-authoring a controversial new book (affiliate link) with her husband, Jed Rubenfeld. Which ethnic cultural groups are superior? [New York Post]

Ed. note: Matt Kaiser founded The Kaiser Law Firm PLLC, a white-collar boutique in Washington, D.C., and will now be writing a weekly column for us about white-collar practice and his adventures in building a law firm. Matt previously covered the Supreme Court for us. This is the second installment of his new column.

Suppose you’re a fourth-year associate in a litigation department in a large firm on one of the coasts. You’ve worked on a lot of different matters — you’ve done document review for commercial litigation. You put together a privilege log for some patent litigation (who says patent litigation is specialized?). You waded through documents in an FCPA case. You even got to do some deposition digesting for a reinsurance lawsuit!

You really liked your work on the FCPA document review. You noticed that the documents related to a foreign country, which sounded exotic. You could sit in your office, staring at the brick wall on the other side of the alley, and imagine that you were an extra in Casablanca, with a view toward how the world really works overseas.

Perhaps most importantly, you loved how your friends from law school reacted when you told them you were working on an FCPA matter. Cocktail parties became more interesting when people thought of you as a white-collar criminal defense lawyer, rather than the reinsurance guy. You resolved that you’d do more white-collar work and perhaps make this noble practice area the focus of your career.

But how?

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