Inspired by the financial shenanigans of brokers and investment advisors like Bernie Madoff, the University of Miami School of Law this month launched a live-client legal clinic designed to help victims of such abuses.
The Investor Rights Clinic provides a resource to investors who may have claims against their brokers but who cannot find a lawyer who will represent them. Funded by Miami Law and a grant from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's Investor Education Foundation, the clinic will not charge attorneys' fees.
"Individuals who may have suffered investment losses due to broker misconduct usually must pursue those claims in arbitration," explained Teresa J. Verges, the clinic's director. "Investors with modest claims, however, are often unable to obtain legal representation because the claim is too small for an attorney to accept it on a contingency basis, and the investor cannot afford to pay hourly legal fees. That's where the clinic may be able to help."
Under faculty supervision, second- and third-year law students will meet with potential clients, conduct a complete factual and legal investigation of their claims and explain what their legal options may be to pursue legitimate claims. The clinic expects to handle inquiries involving allegations of recommended investments that were not suitable for the investor, improper "churning" of investors' accounts to generate fees, misrepresentation and unauthorized trading.
The clinic also plans to hold a series of educational programs throughout South Florida to educate investors about how to detect and avoid investment scams.
Before joining Miami Law, Professor Verges served as Assistant Regional Director at the Miami Regional Office of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"This is a very underserved community," Verges said, referring to investors with complaints against their brokers. "I have seen many egregious cases of fraud and illegal broker conduct over the course of my career at the SEC. I am excited about the opportunity to help investors directly, while at the same time teaching future attorneys about securities arbitration, essential lawyering skills and the importance of service to community."
The clinic intends to give law students a chance to "deal practically with clients and cases," she says, "and maybe even gain a love for securities law."
Miami Law's Investor Rights Clinic is the 19th such clinic in the country. Its offices are at Legal Services of Greater Miami, 3000 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 100. For more information, please call 305-284-8234 or e-mail the clinic at firstname.lastname@example.org.