This past year Irell & Manella scored Ninth Circuit affirmation of a win dismissing securities claims against Tesla based on stock drops after several vehicles battery packs caught fire. The firm also persuaded the U.S. Department of Justice to terminate an investigation without bringing claims against former Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act. Irell also won a rare securities class action trial in Los Angeles Superior Court. David Siegel, leader of the firm’s securities litigation practice, recently answered questions from The Recorder about how Irell approaches defending securities cases and the firm’s trial chops. Partner Glenn Vanzura chimed in on how the firm is using technology to better serve clients.
The Recorder: What do each of these cases the firm is being recognized for demonstrate about Irell’s securities litigation capacities?
David Siegel: A key to our success in each of these cases was developing a merits-based narrative for the defense. Many securities litigation defenses center on the legal challenges—and we obviously fight those battles in each of our cases. But, as we did in each of these challenging representations, our lawyers understand the need to tackle the facts head-on and develop a counter-narrative, which we rely on from the earliest stages of a case through summary judgment motions and, in the rare case, all the way through trial.
Challenging ourselves from the outset to think about how we would win at trial gives focus to and prioritizes a winning strategy. That focused approach affords us a better chance to win at every stage of litigation and a better posture in the cases that end in settlement. At the motion to dismiss stage in Tesla, we focused on the truth of the challenged representations and won dismissal based on a failure to adequately allege falsity. In Mozilo, we had to persuade the government that its perceived “slam dunk” case—which was based on the same allegations that had caused the Bank to settle for some $16 billion—would fail for a lack of proof and carried from the outset a high risk of defeat in a costly, high profile lawsuit. The Mozilo matter illustrates our team’s ability to face very difficult legal challenges with a high risk of defeat in what would have been a very costly and high profile lawsuit.
And, obviously, for Public Storage, our developing a strong merits-based defense from Day 1 proved out with a win at trial. The successes achieved in these matters demonstrate the benefits that Irell’s early focus on creative merits-based narratives have at all stages of a litigation.
TR: I think of Irell as a trial firm and securities litigation as a practice that rarely sees cases go to trial. Does your group try a proportionately higher number of securities cases than your peers in the defense bar? If so, why do you think that is?
DS: I don’t know offhand if we try a greater number of securities cases than our peers. However, our firm and litigators have well-earned reputations as trial lawyers, and clients often hire us because they want counsel who can try the case if necessary—and will prepare the defense accordingly. Clients also tend to hire us for their toughest, most complex cases. which may go to trial more often than the more routine, run-of-the-mill matters.
TR: With so few cases going to trial these days in any practice area, how do you make sure that new lawyers at Irell get chances to build their skills, especially when it comes to oral advocacy and taking witness testimony?
DS: Even though a small percentage of cases will ultimately go to trial, we consider trial experience imperative, particularly given our strategy to begin every representation preparing the case for ultimate defense on the merits. To ensure our new lawyers get that experience, we have several approaches. First, the firm tries a good number of cases every year, just usually not in the securities litigation arena. We encourage our securities litigators to work on those cases, even if they are outside their preferred practice area. Second, the firm has a very active pro bono practice, and pro bono hours for associates are counted equally with client billable hours. Pro bono cases can afford our newest lawyers with tremendous experience in the courtroom and at contested administrative hearings.
TR: How are your litigators harnessing technology to work more efficiently?
Glenn Vanzura: We utilize technology in both our securities litigation practice and, more broadly, throughout the firm, in two critical ways. First, we ensure the highest possible level of protection for our clients’ confidential data and our attorney work product, in all of our offices and data centers. Specifically, Irell & Manella is one of the few firms to achieve ISO 27001:2013 Certification, the highest level of security-related accreditation a business can achieve.
Second, we have a state-of-the-art document processing and review facility physically within the firm, staffed with top notch litigation support talent. We utilize our in-house capabilities to manage large scale document collections and productions in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible for our clients. In addition, our ediscovery technology training program educates our litigators on the most current technologies available for document and data management and analysis. Our lawyers are trained to assess the unique needs of each case to determine the most effective and efficient utilization of those technologies.