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Rave Reviews for Straus Institute’s Top Rated Investor Advocacy Clinic

Pepperdine University School of Law

In 2010, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation awarded Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution a grant to establish a comprehensive clinical education program in investor advocacy. The Clinic represents all of its clients on a pro-bono basis. The Investor Advocacy Clinic is the only FINRA funded Clinic to win every arbitration case tried by the Clinic and no FINRA funded Clinic has had more wins or recovered more money for its clients. The Investor Advocacy Clinic is also is the only FINRA funded Clinic to have produced back-to back First Place winners in the national James E. Beckley Student Writing Competition sponsored by the Public investor Bar Association. Director Robert A. Uhl and Associate Director Judith Hale Norris supervise the Investor Advocacy Clinic.

The Investor Advocacy Clinic California Bar certified law students, under supervision of Director Robert A. Uhl, Esq., handle arbitrations and mediations before FINRA Dispute Resolution on behalf of California investors who have claims less than $100,000, household incomes of less than $100,000 and who have arbitral disputes with their brokers and/or brokerage firms. In the Clinic, students learn critical lawyering skills generally not taught in doctrinal courses.

Thomas J. Stipanowich, William H. Webster Chair in Dispute Resolution, Professor of Law and Academic Director, Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, said, “The creation of our Investor Advocacy Clinic was one of my top priorities as director of the Straus Institute.  The goal became a reality thanks to the personal commitment and leadership of Bob Uhl and Judy Norris, who obtained a seed grant for the clinic and helped guide our students in achieving a remarkable string of victories for investor clients.  The clinic is a model for programs of its kind and an example of how Pepperdine is a place where dreams come true!”

On February 9, 2016, the Investor Advocacy Clinic filed an arbitration claim with FINRA Dispute Resolution on behalf of Margaret Hutchinson, a retired special needs teacher, to recover her retirement savings and punitive damages from a national brokerage firm for its mismanagement of her investment account.  The Investor Advocacy Clinic’s arbitration claim alleged, among other claims, that the brokerage firm and its broker committed elder abuse and breached its fiduciary duty to the Clinic’s client by recommending and purchasing speculative, volatile oil and gas securities, including a complex synthetic structured product. This case settled on the eve of the FINRA arbitration.  This is the seventh-straight win for the Investor Advocacy Clinic, which is unprecedented for any FINRA sponsored securities arbitration clinic.

The Investor Advocacy Clinic’s Client Margaret Hutchinson was delighted with the result and expressed her gratitude in a letter to Director Robert Uhl:

“Thank you for making it possible to recover a good portion of the loss in my brokerage account.  Had I paid for the legal services, the cost would have been significant.  I am grateful that I received a substantial part of the loss in the negotiated settlement without having to pay legal fees.
I learned of the loss in late 2011 and wrote my broker a letter asking to be made whole in April 2013.  My attempts to negotiate a settlement with the brokerage’s legal department on my own were futile and stressful and resulted in greater loss as the investments went down in value.  Fortunately, I heard of your program because the FINRA Investor Complaint Program recommended it.

We signed a retainer in October 2015.  Two semesters of law school classes under your direction helped me with the process of preparing for trial—collecting the discovery documents necessary, informing me of the progress toward resolution, and encouraging me to answer questions and write out the narrative in preparation for the trail.  I had confidence that you all would do everything possible to get the best financial agreement.
Thank you also for keeping me informed every step of the way about the progress of the case and what actions needed to be taken.  You always responded to my calls and emails even though I had to be reminded to check my email!  You even met me so that I could hand deliver documents that I was afraid to send in the mail.

Again, I thank you and your students for you kind assistance and diligent efforts throughout the process and settlement.”

Three of the Clinic students, who worked on Margaret Hutchinson’s case, all report that the Investor Advocacy Clinic was their favorite law school course because it taught them how to practice law in real life.

Steven J. Gagliano, Editor-in-Chief, Volume X, Journal of Business, Entrepreneurship, J.D Candidate 2017 describes his Investor Advocacy Clinic experience:

“The Investor Advocacy Clinic is both a firm and a family.  Every time I step into the clinic, I’m simultaneously in awe of my accomplished classmates and comforted by their support.  We all work together to complement each other’s strengths to the benefit of our clients, but the clients are not the only one’s benefitting; the students learn a trade.

Law school training is theoretical, but the practice of law is skills based, often best taught through apprenticeship.  While analytical skills constitute conditions precedent to the practice of law, practical lawyering is equally as important; this is where IAC excels. I’m not aware of another law school experience where students are afforded the opportunity to follow the arc of a case from client interviews to settlement or award.  Professor Robert A. Uhl and Judith Norris provide expert mentorship, answering the practical questions that traditional case law neglects.  While the clinic work is often rigorous, the rewards far exceed the investment.  IAC allows us to participate in every part of the arbitration and instills a sense of confidence through repetition.  Whether we are drafting cross-examination questions or deciphering investment risk, everything is real-life.  We leave with the experience of lawyers, not just academics.  For this, I am eternally grateful.”

Jackie Rodgers, Jr., J.D. Candidate 2017 described his experience:

“The Investor Advocacy Clinic has prepared me for the practice of law more than any other law school course.  During law school I have learned many skills needed to practice law: how to read, analyze, and write the law; how to settle conflicts through alternative dispute resolution; and how to try cases in a courtroom, to name a few.  Undoubtedly, these skills will be useful in practice. However, there is a difference between learning the skills to practice law and actually learning a legal practice. Nowhere in law school have I actually learned a legal practice; nowhere, that is save for the Investor Advocacy Clinic.

Because of my year in the Investor Advocacy Clinic, I feel confident that if tomorrow a client needing representation in a FINRA Arbitration approached me, I could provide adequate representation. Certainly, that representation would benefit from the assistance of an experienced litigator, especially during the arbitration itself.  But, evaluating the client’s case, filing the complaint, selecting the arbitrator, requesting discovery, examining documents, filing motions, and preparing examinations, essentially fully preparing for arbitration, are all tasks I would feel comfortable performing–as by the end of the semester we will have completed all of these tasks at least twice, if not thrice.

In effect, the Investor Advocacy Clinic has provided a roadmap for converting the knowledge learned during law school into legal practice.”

Nona Yegazarian J.D. Candidate, 2017 described her year long experience:

“The Investor Advocacy Clinic gave me the opportunity to not only fulfill my pro-bono requirement, but also gave me a front seat to the practice of law. My classmates and I handled real cases, helping real clients during arguably the most difficult time of their lives at Professor Uhl’s and Professor Norris’s guidance. Because of my time with the Clinic, I could confidently walk into an interview and say I had conducted client interviews, drafted filings, prepared discovery, and corresponded with opposing counsel. The hands-on experience I received at the IAC helped me land my last three jobs and helped me make my current job permanent. I can honestly say that I came out of the year-long clinical experience with two amazing mentors, an award winning writing sample, and an invaluable skill set.”

Director Uhl says that the course and Clinic are a win for everyone involved.  The students benefit from the hands-on, real-life experience of working on an actual case from start to finish and learning arbitration law in the securities industry.  The clients win by having free legal representation by the law students under the direct supervision of Director Uhl, who has more than 28 years’ experience trying securities arbitration cases. And Director Uhl wins by fulfilling a lifelong dream of teaching the next generation of attorneys what he loves to do.