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As a former general counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission back in the world of private practice, David Becker has some tough acts to follow. But the Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton partner, considered one of the hottest laterals when he left the commission last year, is easily demonstrating the prowess of an ex-SEC top gun, say peers and clients. “There are high expectations,” explains Richard Walker, general counsel for corporate and investment banking at Deutsche Bank and a former SEC general counsel himself. “The general counsel’s office is the nerve center of the commission. It advises on every aspect of what the commission does and gives a great knowledge base when you go into private practice.” Before joining the SEC in 1998, Becker, 56, had already spent 20 years at D.C.’s Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. A Columbia Law School graduate, he launched his legal career by clerking for Judge Harold Leventhal of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and then-retired Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed. Today, Becker addresses client needs from the D.C. office of Cleary, Gottlieb. He is regular counsel for the audit committee of the El Paso Corp., a natural gas powerhouse embroiled in the California energy and Enron debacles. Late last month, El Paso became the subject of an SEC investigation into restructured power contracts. Becker also represents the troubled Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., which faces scrutiny based on its January 2003 announcement that its reported earnings had been improperly adjusted to smooth growth and thus would be restated for the last three years. The corporation commonly known as Freddie Mac is being investigated by the SEC, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Va., the Internal Revenue Service, and the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which keeps an eye on both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association). Recently, Becker served as a special consultant to the board of directors of Syncor International. Appointment of an outside consultant was required by order of the SEC, which, along with the Justice Department, is investigating Syncor over certain illegal payments to its overseas customers. And Becker represents the Interpublic Group of Companies, a marketing communications and services enterprise. Interpublic has been under investigation by the SEC since last November after it admitted overstating its results between 1996 and 2002 by $180 million. Says Nicholas Camera, senior vice president and general counsel for Interpublic: “You have the feeling when you’re talking to him and listening to him, he knows what he’s talking about — that he’s been in the trenches.” Despite his impressive r�sum� and his years grappling with securities law — or perhaps because of them — Becker is also known for his dry sense of humor. He can bring levity to tense situations, according to Camera: “We’ve had some difficult times around here. He always has a humorous comment to make at the right time.” For his first year out of government service, Becker wasn’t permitted to appear before the SEC on behalf of a client. (Not that his law-firm colleagues lacked insight into how Becker’s successor might think: The new general counsel, Giovanni Prezioso, hailed from Cleary, Gottlieb.) But the ban on Becker’s directly representing clients before the commission expired this past May. These days, with 10 active SEC investigations and a half-dozen corporate governance-related engagements, Becker says the dual roles of advocating for companies before the SEC and helping corporate boards to navigate complex compliance requirements provide welcome diversity. “I like exercising both hemispheres of the legal brain,” says Becker. “I’m grateful for the opportunity and variety.”

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