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Investor Advocacy Clinic Finds Success in First Year Cases

Members of Pepperdine University School of Law's Investor Advocacy Clinic, a branch of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, have found success in their first three cases.

The Pepperdine Law Investor Advocacy Clinic was established in the fall of 2010 through a $250,000 grant from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The Clinic's founding Director, Robert Uhl, an attorney specializing in securities arbitration and litigation, approached the Straus Institute about establishing the Clinic based on a recommendation from his law firm partner, Philip Aidikoff. Thomas Stipanowich, Academic Director of the Straus Institute, William H. Webster, Chair in Dispute Resolution, and professor of law, supported the idea and assisted Uhl and the Clinic's co-director, Judith Hale Norris, in writing the FINRA grant.

Upon the approval of the grant, Uhl began teaching a securities arbitration course at Pepperdine Law. The first class of 12 students was welcomed in the fall of 2010. Of the 12, five were invited to join the Clinic and begin working on a select number of cases. Students who participate in the Investor Advocacy Clinic are certified with the State Bar so they can represent parties under the direct supervision of an attorney

"We were receiving dozens of calls," Uhl said. "Many were regarding investments people made with friends. Our focus is on investments made with licensed brokers, so we had to turn down about 95 percent of the calls."

Uhl noted that each case takes approximately fourteen months to prepare and go to either mediation or an arbitration hearing. The students work closely with Uhl to prepare the witnesses and documents for mediation and arbitration, and to develop negotiation and learning strategies. In addition to preparing the case, the Clinic's students are required to participate in community outreach projects designed to educate the public about investment fraud.

In the fall of 2011, Uhl welcomed 25 students into his second securities arbitration class. Five additional students were selected from that class to join the Clinic for the coming year.

The Clinic's first case, Surinder Paul, et al. vs. FSC Securities Corp., et al., included Pepperdine Law's Meghan Milloy, a certified law student. The case was settled in January, 2012 in mediation. Milloy delivered the opening argument and negotiated the settlement under Uhl's supervision.

The second case, Susan Jenkins vs. Crowell Weedon & Co., went to arbitration hearing in February, 2012. Pepperdine Law students Matthew Troncali and Lindsey Dodge, both certified law students, worked with Uhl and Norris on the case. Troncali, a member of the Clinic's, delivered the opening statement and the direct examination of Susan Jenkins. After four days, the Chairman of the arbitration panel ruled in favor of Jenkins, and awarded 100 percent of the damages requested at the hearing. Pepperdine is the only one of six investor advocacy clinics funded by FINRA to try a case, and the first FINRA clinic to prevail at arbitration.

"I'm very enthusiastic about it," said Peter Robinson, managing director of the Straus Institute and Associate Professor of Law. "It's an incredible opportunity for our students. It's lawyering at its pinnacle. For the students to be coached and prepared and to be a part of presenting peoples' cases is a perfect law school educational experiences. The fact that we had such a good outcome is a dream come true."

A third case, Robert Olson vs. Morgan Wilshire, et al., went to a three-day arbitration hearing in March. In April, the single arbitrator ruled in favor of Olson, granting him virtually all of his net out of pocket loss. Pepperdine certified law students Maxfield Marquardt and Cory O'Yang participated. Marquardt, a member of the Clinic's first cohort, delivered the opening statement and the direct examination of Robert Olson.

"The Clinic and the underlying Securities Arbitration course that we teach are a triple play win for all concerned," Uhl said. "Clients receive professional representation at no cost for claims that otherwise would go begging, the students learn practical skills generally not taught in purely academic classes, and I personally satisfy a long held desire to pass on by way of teaching the incredible experiences I have had representing investors for more than 20 years."