Alison Frankel: New study says SEC revolving door not important. Don't believe it

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Alison Frankel: New study says SEC revolving door not important. Don’t believe it

Alison Frankel: New study says SEC revolving door not important. Don’t believe it

Reuters-

My hat is off to the four authors of a new study called “Does the Revolving Door Affect the SEC’s Enforcement Outcomes?” which was to be presented Monday at the American Accounting Association. As The New York Times was the first to report, researchers from Emory, Rutgers, the University of Washington and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University set out to reach a quantitative answer to a question everyone thinks they already know the answer to. Instead, the study found that there’s no measurable impact on enforcement from lawyers moving in and out of the SEC.

I wasn’t surprised that there’s scant statistical evidence of ambitious lawyers at the Securities and Exchange Commission punting on cases to curry favor with future clients; most SEC lawyers expect to go work for law firms, and firms like to hire regulators with a reputation for toughness, not laxity. (Remember the bidding wars for former Enron prosecutors?) But I was taken aback by a secondary finding in the study: Firms with a high concentration of SEC alumni don’t achieve measurably better results than other firms for clients in enforcement actions. That should cause some eyebrows to rise among the clientele of firms like Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, which pride themselves on offering clients counsel based on the collective experience of their corps of SEC alums. If clients really aren’t faring any better when they hire firms with specialized SEC enforcement defense practices, why bother to pay for their experience?

But there’s one big reason to take that aspect of the study with a grain of salt. It comes down to the inability of even the most nuanced statistical analysis to measure the unmeasurable.

[REUTERS]

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