Law practice takes work. Despite all the pressure you feel during finals and all the cases you read during the year, nothing in law school really prepares you for the finer details of practicing law. How do I draft discovery requests? How do I prepare for a conferral call with opposing counsel? How do I build a reputation in the legal community? How do I set expectations with my clients and coworkers? How do I work as a team with other attorneys?
All these lessons I learned in clinic, and it was tough. The first thing that hit me was the pace of practice: it’s fast. You constantly have to keep an eye towards the future and stay ahead of deadlines or it can drown you.
Second, working relationships matter. It takes work and communication, but when the deadlines are quickly approaching and the work seems insurmountable, having someone sitting next to you on a Sunday afternoon furiously drafting a crucial final brief is invaluable.
Finally, I learned to manage expectations. This begins by learning the pace at which you work. You can only learn how fast you can get something done by doing it. That’s what clinic does for a law student. It lets you actually do it. Once you have a good sense of your pace you can then manage expectations of both clients and coworkers. I cannot stress how important this is. Both of these parties rely on the timeframes you set, and not meeting deadlines makes you look bad. Being able to deliver on your promises is everything.
You struggle, make mistakes, and feel like a fish out of water, but it gets easier. Clinic taught me that and provided a safe environment for me to make mistakes and look stupid because, lets face it, we all are going to have to go through it.
So much of the market today operates on trust. When an investor reads a prospectus, they expect to find accurate representations of the investment’s costs and risk profile. Then, based on those representations, investors make investment decisions that best fit their portfolio. Unfortunately, the average retail investor does not rely on the prospectus to make these decisions. In fact, most retail investors rely on what their broker or investment adviser tells them about the investment they are considering. The investor trusts the advice is accurate.
FINRA has barred two brokers, Timothy S. Dembski and Walter F. Grenda, from the securities industry for misrepresenting the risks of a hedge fund to investors and lying about their background. The brokers told investors the hedge fund was a “growth” fund that relied on a computer algorithm to prevent significant losses. None of this was true. The fund was actually completely controlled by a manager, the company’s CIO. The brokers also misrepresented the CIO’s experience. They distributed materials saying, “he had 14 years of experience,” and had “co-managed a portfolio of $500 million in assets.” This wasn’t true either. Subsequently, the fund lost 80% of its value in the last month it traded, costing investors a lot of money.
The point of highlighting this action by FINRA is to point out the importance of truthful information to a retail investor. Unfortunately accessing this information takes effort on the investor’s part. An investor should read the investment’s prospectus that was filed with the SEC, use FINRA’s Broker Check for information about your broker or investment adviser, and not just blindly rely on what a broker or adviser says.
We have all experienced it. You see an ad in the paper or online. It is just what you have been looking for, and the price is unbelievable. No, seriously, as in you can’t believe it. On the rare occasion that you actually convince yourself to look into it, you always discover it was just a gimmick or there is a catch. Another good example is a time-share. You get an invitation for a free 3 night stay at a great hotel. All you have to do is sit through a short talk about time-shares. We all have heard the story before. Most of us decide not to bother.
CDs, or certificate of deposits, are bank accounts that pay a fixed interest over a period of time as long as the money in the account is not withdrawn. These accounts are very important to older investors, because they are FDIC insured and the principal balance of the account is guaranteed. This means that you can earn interest on your deposits and not have to take any risk in the market.
In today’s market however, rates on CDs are at an all time low. This means that older investors are often looking for safe places to both earn return in more obscure places. Enter the High-Yield CD Offer. Much like the time share, certain firms are marketing high-yield cd rate promotions. The interested investors are required to go into the office to claim their rates, and they are forced to sit down with an adviser. That adviser will then pitch a much different product, normally entailing more risk. The pitch will be high pressure in an effort to get the investor to agree to forgo the special rate on the CD and buy the security.
The really ugly side of this issue is that in many cases it is not even the bank making the CD rate available. The special interest rate is actually a “bonus” that the firm pushing the security will pay the investor for just listening to the pitch.
It’s very important that investors receiving these kinds of offers ask questions and turn to third parties for help. A good option is the investor’s state insurance commission or FINRA’s Securities Helpline for Seniors (844) 57-HELPS). Some investors might be willing to take the risk to get away with the bait, but remember, don’t be a fish, know what you’re getting into.
The Internet is an ocean. Behind every computer’s screen lies hidden treasures, sunken ships, and giant reefs just waiting for the curious browser to experience. This electronic ocean is also host to a variety of predators, hardened by anonymity and isolation, all ready to ravage the unsuspecting victim. One of these predators is the phisherman. Every phisherman understands the key to survival is patience and selecting the right lure.
Bryan Rafie, a part-time, third year law student, returns to the Investor Advocacy Clinic for our spring 2016 semester. When asked why he decided to return to the clinic, Rafie said
“Who wants the fun to ever stop? Returning to the clinic was an opportunity I couldn’t resist because I really wanted to keep working with my team. The clinic has provided a valuable source of feedback that has helped strengthen my self-awareness and practice. And, the clinic fills a void by providing advocacy for those who can’t otherwise secure an attorney, serving in many cases as a last resort for justice.”
Eight students joined the Investor Advocacy clinic at Georgia State University’s College of Law for the spring 2016 semester. The clinic is pleased to have several students rejoining us for additional work with clients, including Alexandra Hughes, Francis Laryea, Bryan Rafie and Kelly Robinson. Four new interns, Tosha Dunn, Geoffrey Hafer, Michael Williford, and Siri Yellamraju, joined the clinic for the semester.
During a day-long boot camp led by clinic director Nicole Iannarone and Adjunct Professor Jason Doss, the students received training concerning their new cases and clinic’s operations as a functioning law office. Guest speaker Robert Port, an attorney at Gaslowitz Frankel, shared insight on investments, risk and working with clients.
Student interns began to collaborate in their teams and develop goals for the semester to come. The student interns immediately jumped into the clinic’s work, reviewing case files to get up to speed on their cases and even speaking with clients concerning substantive issues. Throughout the semester, students will work on filed proceedings, preparing for a final hearing and engaging in mediation and settlement discussions, and evaluate new client matters.
It was middle of the spring semester. No, it was the tail end of the summer semester. No. Wait. I actually can’t quite remember. The semesters are starting to run together, but I know that at some point early this year I made the decision to sign up for the Investor Advocacy Clinic.
I went back and forth. Did I really want to take this on? The argument went something like this. “I am a part time student. I really don’t have the time to dedicate to ACTUAL CLIENTS, ACTUAL CASES. I know very little about FINRA arbitration. I just got comfortable reading for class, being called on by professors in class, and studying for a 3-4 hour final. Did I really want to force myself out of my comfort zone, again?”
If you are having a similar internal debate, stop it. Go online and apply. I was told recently that I needed to get used to feeling uncomfortable. The practice of law, at least at first, is uncomfortable, and that is a good thing. It means you are growing and getting better. Not only will the Clinic get some of this heavy lifting out of the way early in a safe and controlled environment, it will also teach you things you could never learn in a classroom. There is just something different about working on a real case, talking to a real client. The intensity just seems to be turned up, and this will force you to work hard. It will pull the best out you.
There will be a moment near the end of your clinic experience when you take a step back from your work. You will find yourself inches away from a settlement, fighting seasoned attorneys at big firms on the merits of your case. You will look down at the paper, and realize that this whole attorney thing isn’t so bad. When you do, don’t thank me, just write a blog, and get someone else to join in behind you.