Lessons from the Option of Last Resort: The Overall Hearing Experience

By: Robert Noens, Fall 2017 IAC Student Intern

Welcome to my second and final five-part blog series. In my final semester in the Clinic, I finally got the opportunity to experience a very rare and valuable thing – a FINRA hearing. The one thing that everyone pictures when they call the Clinic, feel the need to sue their broker, or envision securities litigation, is also both rare and something most Clinic students will never get the opportunity to see. In fact, while the reasons for not getting a case all the way through a hearing may vary, ultimately, for one reason or another, only 13% of FINRA disputes will be decided by an arbitrator(s) upon the completion of a hearing.

So, with my new-found insight into the FINRA hearing process, I have decided to share my experience and lessons in my final blog series. The series will go as follows:

  1. The Overall Experience;
  2. Preparation and Expense
  3. Your Past Will Come Back to Haunt You
  4. Rolling the Dice
  5. Be Skeptical

To my first point: overall, the experience – for me – was great (maybe not as much for everyone else involved). From the late nights writing and revising my direct examination questions, to watching “zingers” catch witnesses off guard on cross examination, to navigating a loading dock in a Midtown high-rise with a cart stacked with enough boxes to build any three-year-old’s dream fort, the experience was one I will not soon forget. The hearing room itself is much more laid back than I imagined it would be. There are no “your honors” or cliché courtroom formalities. There is simply a long wooden table where the two sides may or may not sit on opposite sides of each other, three arbitrators who simply want to sit where they can see the witnesses, and a person that works for the venue who pops-in from time to time and asks if anyone would like any more coffee or water. Overall, not your typical courtroom experience or feel. Nonetheless, the decision made in that room may affect your life just as drastically as any decision made in a courtroom. The only real difference is that the decisions in a FINRA proceeding are made with a much casual air.