You’ve said that one of your most important cases at S&C was Cole v. Arkansas.
That case was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a lawyer. It was truly rewarding to know that we were making a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of children in state care—some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens—and on the couples who want to provide loving homes for these children.
One of the plaintiffs was the grandmother of a 6-month-old baby in an abusive home. She was willing and able to take in the baby, and the social services team agreed she was the best option for the child. It wasn’t hard to understand what the right course of action was, but the law would not allow the baby to be placed with her grandmother because the grandmother was living with her same-sex partner.
Another lesbian couple in the case had adopted a special-needs child prior to November 2008. This was a toddler who wasn’t able to speak or feed himself; he was still in diapers and could not get out of the crib. There was a real danger he would never be able to function normally or even survive. He had faced an uphill battle to be placed with adoptive parents, but this couple took him in. They didn’t just give him a loving home: They actually gave him a life. Then in 2008 they were preparing to adopt another special-needs child, but the law came into place and prevented them.
Individual cases like these put a fine point on it: this was not merely an abstract exercise, but a matter of deep personal significance to kids and families.
Was the case rewarding from a purely legal perspective, as well?
Very much so.
Arkansas is not normally perceived as a state that will readily embrace LGBT rights. But on a deeper level, there’s a strong libertarian flavor in Arkansas law. Arkansans will fight the government if it tries to infringe on privacy. So we performed our legal and tactical analysis dispassionately, without getting clouded by common perceptions about geography or culture, and we concluded that, if the courts followed their own state law, which guaranteed privacy rights, we would win.
From a litigation perspective, it was very gratifying to be able to make this sort of objective analysis and be rewarded by the decision, even if it might not have been the easiest call for the trial judge or the state supreme court. The result affirmed the fundamental soundness of the legal system.
At S&C you regularly represented JPMorgan, among other financial services firms. How did this former client become your current employer?
It was certainly not my plan to leave S&C, ever. I had been advising JPMorgan for a while. I started working for JPMorgan handling the litigation and investigations relating to its acquisition of Washington Mutual assets from the FDIC. We had a fantastic team on WaMu and we all made one another look good. That led to S&C becoming lead counsel on all of JPMorgan’s mortgage-backed securities work, and another fantastic S&C team. Through that, JPMorgan folks got to know me in particular. Eventually they approached me about a senior position.
What fueled your decision to make the move?
Initially, when JPMorgan came knocking, I said that I had no plans to leave S&C. Being a partner at S&C is like playing for the Yankees. It’s a fabulous group of lawyers and people. Once you become a partner at S&C, that’s what you do for the rest of your career. I also told JPMorgan that S&C was part of my family and I did not intend to leave my family.
But Steve Cutler, then executive vice president and general counsel of JPMorgan, said, “Wait till you get to know my family.” And, indeed, the JPMorgan team is stellar. They are sharp people, at the top of their game, willing to take on new opportunities and facing some of the biggest challenges in the financial industry. They have strong ethics and they are always intent on doing the right thing. If JPMorgan’s culture had been less than S&C’s, the job would never have attracted me.
And, to be sure, it’s a tremendous opportunity and a great honor. It is a new and different challenge.
There is a general distrust of the financial services industry right now. But you maintain that JPMorgan’s management is different. How so?
It starts with JPMorgan CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon. He stresses that, every day, in every interaction with our colleagues, our customers and our regulators, we must live by the spirit of the law, not by the letter alone. We have to believe and act in a way keeping in mind that everything we do makes a difference. It starts with the senior leaders, and it spreads throughout the entire company. If we all have that mind-set, we can restore gradually the public’s trust in the banks.
How is being a GC different from being a partner in a law firm?
The legal issues are just as difficult, if not more so. However, I deal regularly with a greater variety of matters. But ultimately the biggest difference is that, when you’re in-house, you’re the principal. You’re the client. You make the ultimate call to move forward or not. Matters are usually on my desk because they are complicated and there is no clear or easy decision. I definitely have a few more gray hairs because of that.
Did your training at S&C prepare you for this kind of breadth and responsibility?
To be sure, given the diversity of the people and matters, there is no better training, or better collection of colleagues and cases, than at S&C. And frankly, S&C is still top adviser to JPMorgan on many issues.
When you told your S&C partners you were leaving, what was their reaction?
At my going-away party, [S&C partner] David Braff told the old Rodney Dangerfield joke—the definition of mixed feelings: watching your mother-in-law go over the cliff in your new Porsche.
For a moment, I wondered whether I was the mother-in-law or the Porsche in this analogy! But I think the point is that true colleagues want you to succeed no matter what, so they will be sad to see you go. But they’ll be thrilled that you’re moving on to an exciting new opportunity.