On January 28, a team of Investor Rights Clinic (IRC) students completed a three-day hearing before an arbitrator at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), representing a senior, retired couple in claims brought against their broker and the nation’s largest broker-dealer. The team of Christopher Amore ‘11, Alfonso Iriberri ’11, and Bailey Somers ’11 handled all aspects of the case including the hearing itself. Two weeks following the hearing they learned that they had prevailed, and that their clients won back their retirement savings.
“We truly believed in our clients' claim, and getting their money back was our focus throughout the entire process. It's a great feeling to know we were successful in doing so,” said Amore.
The win was even more meaningful given that they argued the case against a major Chicago securities law firm, which represented the respondents. The claim alleged a failure to recommend suitable investments, misrepresentations and omissions of material facts, unauthorized trading, and the broker-dealer’s failure to properly supervise its broker.
“Having a case go all the way to arbitration is rare, and afforded us the invaluable opportunity to participate in every step of the arbitration process” said Somers. “This case taught me that with hard work and preparation, it's possible to take on an adversary with many more resources at its disposal and still achieve a positive result for the client.”
Before actually filing the statement of claim, the students spent hours on end interviewing and preparing the clients, analyzing their investment portfolio, calculating monetary damages, researching the relevant law and FINRA and SEC rules and regulations, and developing their theory of the case. They drafted and served a demand letter prior to filing the clients’ formal complaint and, on a parallel track, researched techniques and developed a negotiation strategy which they role played against other clinic students.
“The students’ ability to work well as a team was gratifying both for them and for me. The IRC functions like a small litigation firm, and each student team has both the opportunity to develop lawyering skills and the responsibility for the progress and successful completion of each step of a real client’s case.” said Karen J. van Ingen, Associate Professor of Clinical Law and Director of the IRC. “Our students learn to put their legal training into practice on behalf of real clients and achieve outcomes any experienced lawyer would be proud of.”
Amore prepared and examined the respondent broker and the broker’s two supervisors. He also conducted the cross-examination of a second broker presented by respondents. Somers prepared and delivered the opening and closing statements and prepared and conducted the direct examination of both plaintiffs. Iriberri prepared and conducted the direct examination of the claimants’ expert witness.
Iriberri said, “This process taught me to expect the unexpected. Trial and arbitration strategies have to change on the fly, and dealing with the ‘behind-the-scenes’ matters at the spur of the moment was more unnerving than actually presenting the ready-made portions of my argument to the arbitrator.”
Prior to the hearing, Amore, Iriberri, and Somers prepared their own discovery requests and addressed respondents’ requests. They spent extensive time analyzing respondents’ discovery production. Ultimately, hundreds of pages of material were organized into trial exhibit books. The team also participated in extensive motion practice. They prepared papers and participated in oral argument before the arbitrator on several occasions both in support of plaintiffs’ motions and in opposition to respondents’ motions. Finally, they prepared their clients and the expert witness for testimony at trial while developing and perfecting their direct and cross-examinations.
“The team did an outstanding, professional job at the three-day hearing,” said Professor van Ingen. “After the close of the hearing they were not only complimented by their adversaries but two students were asked to submit their resumés to the partner conducting the hearing for respondents!”