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Andrew Pincus knows history in the making when he sees it. He was in the middle of one of the hottest political standoffs of the past century, as a legal strategist for former Vice President Al Gore after election of 2000. Now, just over a year later, Pincus once again finds himself with perhaps an all-too-intimate view of this year’s main business event, as the top lawyer for the Chicago-based accounting firm Arthur Andersen, former auditor for the beleaguered Enron Corp. It’s been a turbulent few months. The Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress all are investigating possible wrongdoing at the Houston energy-trading concern. Many civil suits have been filed against Andersen, accusing it of negligence, among other things. (Andersen has retained New York law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell.) And in January, a House subcommittee made Andersen lawyer Nancy Temple a witness to its investigation for her role in sending an e-mail that may have encouraged the shredding of critical Enron-related documents. Andersen has made Temple’s e-mail message available on its Web site, but has prefaced it by stating that “there were other communications” and that the release of the e-mail should not indicate that there “were no inappropriate actions.” The Enron affair crowns a tumultuous year for Pincus, who took the reins as GC of Andersen’s global administrative entity, Andersen Worldwide S.C., in February 2001. (Which makes him top legal dog at Andersen, too.) Within Pincus’ first five months on the job, Andersen settled two embarrassing accounting fraud suits. Last May it agreed to pay $110 million to Sunbeam Corp. shareholders in one of the largest settlements ever paid by an accounting firm. Sunbeam was forced to restate its earnings for several quarters, sending its stock price down the drain. And weeks later, in June, Andersen agreed to pay a $7 million civil penalty levied by the SEC for its audits of Waste Management Inc. (The firm admitted no wrongdoing in either case.) Despite the bad news, Pincus, in a December interview that took place before Andersen revealed that Enron-related documents had been shredded, said that high-profile litigation was “not a surprising part of the job.” Pincus also shrugged off the idea that the legal landscape for accounting firms had shifted. Accounting firms had always been sued, he said. The only difference, Pincus said, was that the spike in the stock market in the late 1990s made blowups like Enron’s so damaging. (Since the shredding revelation, Pincus said, he was unable to answer questions by phone. But through a spokesman, he said that the ongoing probes made for “an intense situation,” where “dedicated professionals [were] focused on representing their clients.”) University of Chicago Law School professor Randal Picker, who has followed accounting litigation since the 1980s, agrees with Pincus that litigation is nothing new for accounting firms. But Picker says he doesn’t believe that Andersen’s situation is routine. “When’s the last time a firm took out a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal explaining itself?” asks Picker, referring to an open letter written Jan. 29 by Andersen CEO Joseph Berardino. Pincus, 44, came to Andersen after serving four years as GC and senior policy adviser to former Commerce Secretary William Daley (which led to his Gore gig). Old colleagues describe Pincus as a calm and dispassionate voice. One of Pincus’ biggest cheerleaders is Daley, who calls the GC the “smartest guy” he knew at the Chicago-based law firm, Mayer, Brown, & Platt, where they first met. Daley says that Pincus’ knowledge of how Washington works has been evident in his rookie year at Andersen. “With the Waste Management thing … he got as good a settlement as they could hope for,” says Daley. Pincus will have to tap into every bit of that insider knowledge as calls for accounting reform get shriller. The GC says he looks forward to reform efforts. But you can bet he’s got more pressing matters on his mind.

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