As the only securities arbitration clinic in Florida providing free assistance to small claim investors, current and former student interns celebrated a notable milestone for Miami Law’s Investor Rights Clinic - reaching and crossing the $1 million dollar mark in client recoveries. Given the limits on the size of the claims that the clinic accepts, the settlements and arbitration awards in favor of its clients represent a significant achievement.
Sean Fard (3L), Haley Weiss (3L), Filip Grzelak (2L), Angela Capezza (3L), Priscila Bandeira (3L), Jean Strickland (3L), Zachary Windham (3L)
Serving Vulnerable, Elderly Investors
South Florida is no stranger to vulnerable investors exposed to the misconduct of financial advisors. As a result, the clinic's clients are mostly elderly investors who believe they have been victims of fraud or suffered significant financial loss, and have claims that are too small for them to find legal representation.
The clinic has handled numerous cases on behalf of retirees placed into illiquid securities, such as non-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), reverse convertible securities, “junk bond” funds and speculative private placements (one involving a Ponzi scheme).
“Working in the Investor Rights Clinic was one of my most valuable experiences in law school,” 3L Haley Weiss said. “The clinic gave me the opportunity to interact with clients and analyze complex legal issues, all while giving back to our community by helping those who could not otherwise afford an attorney. I am so proud of the clinic for reaching a million dollars in recoveries!”
Only Six Years in Operation
The clinic opened its doors in January 2012 after receiving a limited grant from the FINRA Foundation. Since then, the clinic has handled more than 300 inquiries and opened 78 cases that have run the gamut in types of broker misconduct impacting investors: churning and excessive trading, misrepresentations and omissions, theft of retirement funds, and sales of high risk, complex or illiquid investment products that are wholly unsuitable for retirees with no meaningful investment experience.
Under the supervision of the clinic’s attorneys, second- and third-year law students conduct the factual and legal investigation of their clients’ cases and, if appropriate, pursue an arbitration claim on their behalf before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which operates the largest securities arbitration forum in the U.S.
“I worked with a great team on cases that were really interesting,” added 3L Priscila Bandeira. “I felt like I was doing something meaningful to impact someone’s life in a positive way.”
High Demand and Waiting List for Assistance
Given the large number of retirees in the state, the demands on the clinic’s limited resources are substantial. “We started a waiting list in late 2016 and now, a year later, we are just beginning to process new potential claims,” said the clinic’s director, Teresa Verges.
“Crossing the $1 million threshold in recoveries is particularly meaningful when you consider that most of our clients have claims under $50,000,” said Scott Eichhorn, the clinic’s associate director.
Helping Communities Beyond Legal Representation
In addition to providing legal representation to clients, clinic student interns have also advocated in Washington D.C., conducted financial outreach events throughout South Florida, written comment letters on FINRA rule proposals, drafted articles regarding the latest financial news impacting investors and securities arbitration, and posted on the clinic’s blog.
The clinic continues to seek recovery of investment losses and is well on its way to helping provide the next million dollars for its clients.
The clinic reached this landmark number in late December 2017, as it completed its sixth year of operations.