For ten years, Cornell Law School’s Securities Law Clinic (SLC) has offered students the opportunity to provide legal services to small investors in upstate New York who have been the victims of investment fraud. This year for the first time, clinic students had the chance to hone their advocacy skills on a much larger stage. In March, SLC Adjunct Professor Birgitta Siegel and five clinic students traveled to Washington, DC, to take part in the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association’s (PIABA) Hill Day, during which they lobbied congressional offices on issues important to retail investors.
Under the supervision of Birgitta Siegel and William Jacobson, clinical professor of law and SLC clinic director, students Dan Sperling ’18, Thomas Knecht ’17, Grigor Lynch ’18, Arjun Ajjegowda ’18, and Radin Ahmadian ’18 played an active role in PIABA’s lobbying effort in support of five major securities law issues intended to protect public investors. Students researched and briefed the issues prior to joining the PIABA group on March 9 in D.C. for final preparations with the advocacy attorneys. On March 10, each student teamed up with Professor Siegel or other of PIABA’s advocacy attorneys, and pitched legislation in back-to-back meetings with members of Congress or their staffers. A particular focus of the effort was opposing any effort to delay implementation of the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Duty Rule.
“PIABA Hill Day was an invaluable experience,” said Thomas Knecht ’17, “and one of the most rewarding of my law school career. It gave me the opportunity to practice effective verbal communication by advocating on behalf of the public investor. Further, I was able to network with attorneys from all over the country and make close friendships with my fellow classmates.”
The day before the Hill visit, students also met with SEC Enforcement attorneys, including Seth Nadler ’10, a former SLC student. Among the topics examined were those flowing from a recent 10th Circuit case that voided an SEC Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decision, holding that the SEC’s ALJs are appointed in violation of the Appointments Clause, Article II of the Constitution.
Professor Siegel commended the students’ work before and during the event.
“Our students were challenged by the complex, fluid legal issues they researched,” Siegel said, “and by the chance to practice unique advocacy skills when pitching issues to members of Congress. Students met the challenges-and then some.”
“The real-world application and out-loud discussion of these security issues added a whole other depth to them that I would never have understood without this experience,” said Daniel Sperling.