Paul Hastings, Williams, Sidley Austin: Business of Law

Paul Hastings LLP rose to first place from the ninth spot last year in Vault.com’s annual law firm associate survey, pushing last year’s top firm Williams & Connolly LLP to No. 3.

The job site says it asked about 17,000 associates to rate their firms in several categories including “satisfaction, culture, compensation, hours, formal training, informal training and mentoring, associate/partner relations, transparency, business outlook, pro bono, diversity and selectivity in hiring.”

This year, the site added questions about “substantive work and career outlook” to the survey.

Greg Nitzkowski, firmwide managing partner at Paul Hastings, said in a telephone interview that the rise is “a remarkable leap. I think it’s a culmination of hard work over a decade and serious dialogue with our associates about the skill sets they need to succeed.”

Nitzkowski added that “our associates appreciate that we prepare them for professional success.  Whether an associate stays with the firm or moves on to another professional opportunity isn’t really relevant to how that associate evaluates the quality of her professional experience, and for us it’s an important part of our business development strategy to train and place great associates with clients.”

The runners-up in the top 10 are Ropes & Gray LLP at No. 2, Irell & Manella LLP at No. 4, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Foley Hoag LLP, Patton Boggs LLP, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, Fish & Richardson PC and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC.

While Nitzkowski was pleased with the top ranking of Paul Hastings, he said there’s one negative: “there’s nowhere to go but down.”

Law Firm Moves

Cadwalader Hires New Executive Compensation Lawyer

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP hired executive compensation lawyer Steven G. Eckhaus as a partner.

Eckhaus will head Cadwalader’s executive compensation and benefits practice as part of the firm’s corporate department in New York. He is joining from Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, where he was chairman of the executive employment practice. He will be joined by several colleagues from his previous firm as well as Cadwalader corporate attorneys to form the new practice.

“Steve is an outstanding lawyer who has attracted a following among some of the best companies in America and their senior executives,” Cadwalader Chairman W. Christopher White said in a statement.

Over the past four decades, Eckhaus has advised executives from a range of industries, including financial services, real estate, technology and sports, negotiating more than $5 billion in employment contracts and other agreements. He is also an experienced litigator in employment disputes and has gained visibility protecting worker rights in several precedent-setting cases.

New Head of the CFTC Whistle-Blower Office Joins From the SEC

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission named Christopher Ehrman head of its whistle-blower office on July 16.

In a statement, the agency said Ehrman most recently was the assistant director in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Market Intelligence.

The whistle-blower office was created under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It was set up to reward individuals who bring actionable, original information regarding wrongdoing to the CFTC’s attention.

At the SEC, the CFTC said, Ehrman oversaw the processing, review, and assignment of all tips, complaints and referrals received by the agency. Ehrman also served as the co-national coordinator for the Microcap Fraud Working Group, a cross-division unit to combat fraud in the over-the-counter market.

Previously, Ehrman served in other enforcement division roles at the SEC, including as a branch chief and senior counsel.

Sidley Austin Adds Cleantech Lawyer in its Palo Alto Office

Marc Gottschalk is joining Sidley Austin LLP as a partner in the firm’s Palo Alto, California, office. He will serve as a member of the environmental, energy and real estate practices and focus on matters involving clean technology and other emerging technologies. He joins Sidley from Proterra Inc., a developer and manufacturer of advanced heavy-duty electric drive and energy storage systems and world-leading electric buses, where he served as chief business development officer and general counsel.

According to a statement from the firm, Gottschalk is a co-founder and board chairman of the Cleantech Open, the world’s largest business accelerator for early stage clean technology companies. He previously was a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto, where he co-founded and co-headed the energy and clean technology practice, and co-headed the real estate and environmental practices.

“For many years, Marc has been one of the most well-known lawyers promoting alternative energy businesses in Silicon Valley,” said Tom DeFilipps, managing partner of Sidley’s Palo Alto office and global co-chairman of the firm’s emerging companies and venture capital practice.

Katten Adds Litigator in N.Y., Environmental Lawyers in Texas

A securities litigator is joining the New York office of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, and two environmental lawyers are joining the Austin, Texas, office.

David L. Goldberg joined the firm as partner in its litigation and dispute resolution practice in New York, where he will represent corporate and individual clients in securities litigation and regulatory enforcement matters, the firm said in a statement.

Goldberg most recently was executive director/senior associate general counsel for UBS Securities LLC, in its Litigation and Investigations Group, where he managed many of its largest investment banking litigations and regulatory investigations. Earlier in his career, Goldberg was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

“David’s multifaceted background in government and in private practice and as in-house counsel enables him to provide a comprehensive perspective of the litigation and regulatory challenges that face major financial institutions,” said Sheldon Zenner, head of Katten’s national litigation practice.

Additionally, the firm announced that Danny Worrell will become a partner in the firm’s Austin, Texas, office. Worrell focuses on environmental siting and permitting, especially in contested case hearings before the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings.

“Danny’s unique skillset and ‘first chair’ contested case hearing experience will further augment Katten’s solid reputation in the area of environmental permitting,” said Katten Chairman Vincent A.F. Sergi.

In addition to representing applicants in challenges to environmental permits, Worrell, according to a statement from the firm, also focuses on the areas of environmental permitting and enforcement, environmental litigation and regulatory compliance.

Also joining the Austin office is Jim Rizk, who comes to Katten from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, where he served as assistant general counsel. In that role, he provided legal advice to the three commissioners presiding over the agency on a wide range of complex contested matters.

In the Courts

S&P Loses Final Ruling on Bid to Dismiss U.S. Fraud Lawsuit

McGraw Hill Financial Inc.’s Standard & Poor’s unit lost its bid to dismiss a fraud lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department.

U.S. District Judge David Carter in Santa Ana, California, on July 16 affirmed his tentative decision of July 8. The ruling denied S&P’s request to throw out the allegation that the ratings company misled investors in residential mortgage-backed securities and collateralized-debt obligations.

In his decision, the judge didn’t rule on the merits of the government’s claims. Instead he rejected S&P’s arguments that the government’s allegations failed to make a viable claim.

“The government has sufficiently pleaded the intent required to support its fraud claims,” Carter wrote. “Any disputes over the veracity of these claims, or contested facts, are properly challenged at a later stage of litigation.”

The Justice Department is seeking as much as $5 billion in civil penalties for losses to federally insured financial institutions that relied on S&P’s investment-grade ratings for mortgage-backed securities and CDOs. The value of many of the securities linked to risky, subprime mortgages was wiped out by a surge in defaults and the collapse of the U.S. housing market starting in 2007.

“The court’s decision was not on the merits of the case as the judge was required at this preliminary stage to accept as true all the factual allegations in the complaint,” Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for New York-based S&P, said in an e-mailed statement. “We now welcome the opportunity to demonstrate the lack of merit to the Department of Justice’s complaint.”

The case is U.S. v. McGraw-Hill Cos., 13-cv-00779, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Santa Ana).

Speeches and Interviews

Bharara Says U.S. Has Time to Bring Insider Trading Cases

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said prosecutors have an arsenal of statutes to bring securities fraud and insider trading charges and aren’t limited to a five-year deadline, as commonly believed.

CNBC’s Jim Cramer, who hosted Bharara’s keynote address at the Delivering Alpha conference in New York yesterday, pressed him about his investigation of SAC Capital Advisors LP and its founder Steven A. Cohen.

Cramer asked Bharara if the U.S. was running out of time to meet a five-year deadline to file securities fraud charges against anyone tied to allegedly illicit trades by former SAC fund manager Mathew Martoma in late July 2008. Bharara said prosecutors have a “variety of options” which can give the government years to file charges.

“There are a lot of armchair lawyers and armchair prosecutors who think that they know what the legal theories are that we can pursue and what statute of limitations issues and often they are quite wrong,” said Bharara, while declining to discuss SAC or Cohen.

The Dodd-Frank Act gives U.S. prosecutors as long as six years to bring securities fraud charges, Bharara said. Federal prosecutors can also use a conspiracy charge to bring a case involving a continuing pattern of misconduct that spans years, and while prosecutors normally have a five-year deadline to bring mail fraud and wire fraud charges, the deadline can be pushed to 10 years if the crimes affect a financial institution, he said.

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