My Day in DC with the SEC

By: Qudsia Shafiq, Fall 2017 IAC Student Intern

After landing at Reagan National Airport at 8:00 am on October 12, 2017, which was flooded with suited business professionals, I could feel hustle and bustle of DC life and I knew immediately that I would have a busy (and exciting!) day ahead of me.  I, along with Professor Lazaro (Director of the Securities Arbitration Clinic at St. John’s University School of Law) and Professor Iannarone, went to the SEC headquarters, where we were greeted by some of the friendly faces of the SEC and escorted to the meeting room.

We made it just in time for the first of three panel discussions. It covered blockchain technology (also known as distributed ledger technology) and its implications on the securities markets.  There, I learned exactly what “blockchain” referred to, its multifaceted use in a variety of industries, and how it could potentially impact how transactions were conducted in the future. Adam Ludwin, the co-founder and CEO of Chain, one of my favorite speakers of the day, clearly, concisely and creatively explained this new financial technology in a captivating manner.

After the panel discussion, we were led upstairs to the conference room – the room where it all happens. With a beautiful patio overlooking the city, clinic students from Howard University, Seton Hall University, and Georgia State University (me), were greeted by the SEC Investor Advocate Office’s Ombudsman, Tracey McNeil, and Associate Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, Melissa Hodgman. In addition to learning more about the SEC’s three-pronged mission (raising capital, maintaining healthy markets and protecting investors), we learned about the different actions the SEC is able to take. Then, we learned about the Honors Program that the SEC offers, and how they internally stay up-to-date and train staff about the constantly-evolving technologies in the securities market.

We then proceeded to lunch at Union Station – a conveniently close (and luckily covered on this rainy day) indoor area – with a large variety of restaurants to choose from. I joined Seton Hall law students, at an entertaining lunch. Being 3Ls who practiced “securities law” – we instantly bonded over clients, classes and our future career prospects.

After enjoying a wonderful meal, it was time to head back and prepare to give our remarks. Seton Hall’s Professor David White, Professor Iannarone and myself were seated at the “roundtable” (really, one very large square table) to give our remarks. Professor Iannarone and Professor White spoke about the importance and sustainability of clinics, while I spoke about my experience with clients in the clinic. After our remarks, we answered questions. While initially nerve-racking, it was exciting to see SEC Investor Advisory Committee Members ask us various questions about our observations on the ground level and potential solutions.

After a vibrant discussion that far-exceeded the time allotted to us, we moved on to the third and last panel discussion of the day, which covered how best to electronically deliver disclosures to retail investors.

Last, but not least, was my favorite part of the day: once again we headed upstairs to “the conference room,” we were able to meet an SEC Commissioner, Kara Stein, the SEC Investor Advocate, the Director of the Division of Investment Management and the SEC Ombudsman.

SEC Commissioner Kara M. Stein told us about her unique path to becoming the SEC Commissioner and answered our questions.  Just when I thought an individual couldn’t be more passionate and dedicated to a cause, the SEC Investor Advocate, Rick Fleming, entered the room and spoke with us about his path. He talked to us about his transition from state agency to a federal agency, and ultimately, now to his relatively-new position as Investor Advocate.

Dalia Blass, Director of the Division of Investment Management, then told us about her transition between private and public practice, how her experience as an immigrant and having worked abroad shaped her perspective, and why it’s crucial for young attorneys to remain flexible and open-minded throughout their careers.  Despite her impressive career in the private sector, she stressed the importance of the SEC’s role to a happy, healthy financial market – clarifying that the SEC’s core tri-fold mission, when properly executed, makes capital markets a better place for both investors and institutions.

To wrap up, the SEC’s first Ombudsman, Tracey L. McNeil, told students about what they could do to help the SEC – comment, comment, comment! She emphasized the importance of both students and retail investors contacting the SEC Ombudsman – whether it’s a complaint, a question or a concern. After all, without information about what the problematic products and practices are, it is difficult for her to act to find a solution.

On this day, we were given full, unfiltered access to ask questions, learn about the SEC and SEC Honors Program, and had the unique opportunity to get an inside look at the SEC’s roles and responsibilities, and how they are allocated throughout its internal structure.  All in all, it was one of the best “field trips” I could have asked for – both as a law student and a student intern in the Investor Advocacy Clinic.