WeiserMazars LLP is an accounting and consulting firm with offices in New York City and six additional U.S. locations, and in the Cayman Islands and Israel. It is affiliated with Mazars Group, an accounting, audit and tax advisory firm that does business on six continents. WeiserMazars offers its services to clients in a variety of industries, particularly real estate, manufacturing and distribution, media, financial services and insurance.
The firm was founded in 1921 by Maxwell Weiser, a World War I veteran who had studied accounting in night school. In 2011, the firm posted revenues of about $135 million. It employs about 650 people, and lost less than 10 percent of its work force during the recession.
LEGAL TEAM AND OUTSIDE COUNSEL
General Counsel Scott Univer is a one-person office, with one support staffer. As much as 40 percent of the work he handles in-house. For outside counsel, he hires firms depending on the value they can provide, their knowledge of the industry, specialized expertise and cross-referral of business. Firms that have met the mark include New York’s Willkie Farr & Gallagher (international) and Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker (litigation, regulatory matters); Bryan Cave (corporate); Philadelphia’s Blank Rome (tax and transactions); Lawrenceville, N.J.-based Stark & Stark (regulatory); and Edwards Wildman Palmer of Boston (litigation).
Univer is open to alternative billing arrangements, saying, “I negotiate discounts and fixed-fee arrangements as appropriate.”
Regarding community service, WeiserMazars contributes to clothing drives, blood drives and similar community activities, Univer said. The firm has not signed the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge or the Diversity Call to Action.
Among his duties, Univer listed individual counseling and advice to management and partners, litigation management, risk management, staff training, contract review, and oversight of mergers and acquisitions. At the office, he is most likely to attend business meetings, counsel managers, conduct phone conferences with outside counsel and respond to emerging situations. He describes his management style as “hands on,” saying, “I have a poster on my wall that reads ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’ ”
Typically, he arrives at the office by 8:30 a.m. and leaves by 6 in the evening. He doesn’t work “a lot after dinner,” but might catch up on his work-related reading. “I carry my iPhone around in the house, so if it ‘dings’ I check to see if it’s something that needs immediate attention.” Because he’s a one-man department, Univer considers himself “of necessity a generalist in many areas, such as employment, intellectual property and securities law, but a specialist in the professional liability of accountants.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
In particular, he enjoys “the chance to make a difference with one-on-one counseling. Accountants are wonderful clients and terrible witnesses,” he said. “They are professional and goal-oriented, but accountants tend to have overdeveloped superegos, and therefore always feel there’s something else they could have done. As in, ‘I conducted a thorough audit, but I feel badly that I didn’t catch the fraud. Maybe there is something else I could have done.’ ”
When he joined the firm, he set out to contribute to risk management, legal cost management and growth management.
“We pay particular attention to the issue of potential vicarious liability,” he said. “One issue of importance is globalization and its potential threat — how to make sure that if there’s a problem, it stays with the firm that is allegedly responsible for the problem. Plaintiffs might want to internationalize these cases, because of the lure of deeper pockets.”
His greatest value to the firm is preventative, he said. “You can’t have a firm with several thousand clients without running into a problem once in a while, and my background in working with accounting firms is an asset.”
Among his unusual duties is “showing anybody who is interested how to tie a bow tie and supporting our Toastmasters program,” for which Univer is the “in-office faculty adviser.”
Among his career highlights was being named one of the 100 Most Influential Persons in Accounting by Accounting Today in 1996 for spearheading mandatory arbitration in accounting firm engagement letters. He reports to chairman and managing partner Douglas Phillips and the firm’s executive committee.
Among Univer’s most interesting cases was one he handled pro bono for the Center for Individual Rights in 1991 involving Michael Levin, a tenured philosophy professor at City College of New York. College administrators began investigating Levin for remarking outside of class that blacks were generally less intelligent than whites, and for adding a separate section to the class Levin taught so students who objected to the comments wouldn’t have to study under him.
A federal judge ruled that the moves, and the college’s failure to stem disruptions of Levin’s class by protesters, violated his First Amendment Rights. “We went to litigation, and I wound up litigating the case myself,” Univer said. “It’s the only time I’ve had the opportunity to quote from Plato during a trial.”
ROUTE TO THE TOP
Following graduation from Kenyon College in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Univer earned his J.D. at New York University School of Law in 1976. He also earned an LL.M. in criminal justice, thinking he might become a prosecutor.
In 1978, he joined the former Dewey Ballantine in New York, working mostly in antitrust and general corporate litigation. In 1986, he began his association with accounting firms as assistant general counsel at Arthur Young & Co., later Ernst & Young LLP.
In 1991, he became general counsel at BDO Seidman LLP. Following a five-year detour to Piper Rudnick, later DLA Piper, in New York, he joined WeiserMazars in 2008.
His advice for aspiring general counsel was succinct. “Know your client, be an effective communicator and allocate your time thoughtfully,” he said.
Univer is a native of Philadelphia whose hobbies include reading military history, fitness, poker and fixing things around the house. He has been married to his wife, Karen Mesberg, for 29 years. They have two children, Ariel (26) and Eden (23).
He serves on the community relations committee of Children’s Village, which assists endangered young people in the New York area; and on the steering committee of the New York chapter of the Federalist Society.
LAST BOOK AND MOVIE
On Tyranny, by Leo Strauss, the late political philosopher at the University of Chicago, and the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris.
“I especially like jazz music of the ’20s and ’30s,” he said.