The Catholic University of America

 Securities Law Program Website

 

 

Nearly every major securities regulatory agency in Washington and many leading firms in the field participated in a CUA Law-SEC co-sponsored symposium on ways to increase diversity in securities law.
 

Helping Wall Street Look More Like Main Street

 

 

“It has saddened me for 16 years that so few people in the financial services industry look like me,” said Todd Cranford (left), currently of counsel at Patton Boggs. Cranford, who has specialized in securities law and financial matters both on Capitol Hill and at the Securities and Exchange Commission, has had plenty of opportunities to notice the general lack of diversity in his field.
 
Partnering with the SEC, Catholic University’s Securities Law Program has taken a big step forward in addressing the concerns of securities attorneys like Cranford.
 
Its March 4 panel discussion, “A Symposium to Enhance Diversity of Legal Employment within the Securities and Financial Services Industry,” offered all D.C.-area law students the opportunity to learn from experts about what it takes to plan a successful career in securities law.
 
Nearly a dozen speakers took turns encouraging law students and minority law students in particular to consider practice in a field that one speaker said offered “an enormous amount of excitement.”
 
                           

Representatives from the SEC, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, and other members of the brokerage community from government agencies and prominent law firms discussed current legal opportunities in the securities field with an eye toward students’ concerns. 
 
What role does the push for diversity play in hiring? “Diversity is a business imperative,” said Marlon Paz, special counsel to the director of training and markets at the SEC. The federal securities law policing agency tries cases all over the country, in front of juries of many different ethnic, racial and linguistic compositions. “I submit to you that the SEC [attorneys] better be able to speak to those juries as well,” Paz noted.
 
Recent studies, such as one from Columbia University that garnered much attention in January, have charted some troubling trends for minority law students. Admissions are declining in many law schools and diversity hiring remains stagnant in the legal field in general.
 
“I am proud of this program because it represents the aims and values of our securities program and our law school,” said Professor David Lipton, director of Catholic University’s Securities Law Program and chief organizer of the symposium. 

"Maybe we will not turn around that decline with tonight’s program. But I would be happy if we start a trend that ends up with increased diversity in our profession, not a continued decrease."
 



Securities law in particular has never exactly been a mosaic of humankind, observed Stephen Gannon (above), executive committee member of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
 
“The securities world doesn’t look like America yet. I think we’re tapping on the accelerator. I wish we could step a little bit harder,” Gannon said.
 
Every speaker stressed that in the end, competence, skill, attitude and networking ability plays a larger role in landing a plum securities position than does skin color or last name. Panelists urged the students in attendance to remain flexible and keep in mind that there is more than one door into the field.
 
Mignon McLemore, assistant chief counsel at FINRA, flirted with earlier careers in medicine, banking and was an employee of the Secret Service before finding her path to securities law.
 
“Opportunity and preparation are the keys for working in this industry. My only advice is, there is no one way to do it,” she said.
 
The speaking program concluded with brief remarks from SEC Commissioner Elisse B. Walter, appointed by President George W. Bush and for a period the agency’s acting chairwoman.
 
 
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Walter (above with Professor David Lipton) recalled that she was sometimes referred to as a “lawyerette” by her 1970s classmates. Things have changed, she conceded, but not enough. Like the preceding speakers, Walter called for more diversity in the securities regulatory field, but differences in perspective and viewpoint as well as bloodlines. “The market is composed of people that look and think much differently than ever before,” said Walter.  
 

After the speaking program, students from more than eight regional law schools had the opportunity to meet and mingle with representatives from 16 prominent D.C. law firms and agencies to learn more about careers in securities regulation.