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Unlike most kids who dream of becoming a baseball player or a firefighter, Bruce Hiler always knew that he wanted to be a lawyer. Wanting to be a securities lawyer — now that took some time. Hiler, 55, says he actually dropped his securities course in his third year of law school. “It didn’t seem real exciting,” he remembers. But after joining a Chicago-based boutique firm, he says he had a change of heart about securities law. He knew he wanted to practice at the federal level, so he applied for a job with the Securities and Exchange Commission. And a career path was set. Today Hiler, a partner in the D.C. office of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, advises such companies as insurance behemoth AIG, investment bank UBS, and third-party insurance nonprofit Life Settlement Institute about how to stay in the SEC’s good graces. He switched back to private practice in 1994, he says, because “I felt I had something to offer before the red flags get red. I wanted to show people what are the yellow flags and help people avoid getting into these problems.” Consider the case of PepsiCo. In 2004, the beverage and snack company’s board retained Hiler and his team to lead an internal review after the company received a Wells notice from the SEC. (A Wells notice warns the subject that it’s in the SEC’s cross-hairs.) In the case of PepsiCo, agency staffers were recommending that the SEC file a civil complaint against two corporate divisions for aiding Kmart Corp. in its improper accounting for millions of dollars in vendor allowances. “We did the review, cooperated with the commission, and showed them what steps have been taken,” Hiler says. Although two former PepsiCo employees did pay penalties, Hiler notes that the SEC closed the case without taking any action against PepsiCo. Hiler was similarly successful in persuading the SEC to drop a case against jewelry retailer Zale Corp. last year. The agency was investigating the company’s accounting for extended service agreements, leases, and accrued payroll. Zale also received subpoenas relating to executive compensation, severance, and stock trading. After spending eight months poring over internal documents, Hiler convinced the SEC that Zale didn’t need to restate its earnings. He’s “got a good style” with both the regulators and the businesspeople, says Christine Nixon, general counsel at AIG who has worked with Hiler for the past five years. “He understands the business side of things, and he’s very good at helping people see what the end goal is and manages it so that it is not disruptive to the business.” Hiler understands the government side of things because he spent a total of 15 years at the SEC, ending up as associate director of the Enforcement Division. He handled such high-profile cases as the savings and loan scandal involving Charles Keating Jr. and parts of the insider trading investigation that brought down Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. These days he says he’s excited to be working “on the side that can really help solve those issues.” He left government to build a securities law practice from the ground up at O’Melveny & Myers. In 2005, he joined the financial services team in the D.C. office of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, where he now serves as head of the firm’s securities enforcement group.

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