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Securities plaintiffs lawyers are a resourceful breed, and a new report suggests that their hardiness is being put to the test. Federal securities class action filings dropped by 20 percent in 2012, according to a report released Wednesday by Cornerstone Research and Stanford Law School. Experts we interviewed said the downturn wasn’t surprising, given the steep obstacles thrown up by the courts, and the near-death of two litigation trends: cases related to the 2008 credit crisis, and cases against Chinese companies that obtained U.S.-listings through a controversial practice known as a reverse merger. The Cornerstone report showed that shareholders brought 152 securities class actions in federal court in 2012, compared to 188 in 2011 and 176 in 2010. The 2012 tally is the lowest since 2006, when shareholders brought 120 cases. According to the report, the average number of filings per year between 1997 and 2011 was 193. Last year was the first year since the credit crisis erupted five years ago with no related filings, likely because the best targets were chosen long ago and the clock ran down for plaintiffs to bring new claims. There was also a sharp decrease in new class actions against Chinese companies that gained listings on U.S. stock exchanges through reverse mergers with U.S. companies, which allow foreign firms to bypass the regulatory scrutiny of an initial public offering. A few of those companies collapsed under the weight of accounting scandals in 2010, prompting a flood of shareholder class actions. “In past years, there’s been some problem du jour driving new filings. That didn’t happen this year,” said Lyle Roberts, a securities litigator at Cooley and author of the 10b-5 Daily. “What we saw was a lot of standard cases in technology, health care, and other areas that have always seen a lot of activity.”

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