HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. —
Curtis Pew, associate clinical professor and attorney-in-charge of Hofstra Law’s Securities Arbitration Clinic,
is awfully busy lately.
“Don’t ask me if the system is fair,” jokes Pew, who’s been involved with securities claims and their arbitral resolutions in various capacities since 1981. “That all depends on the last case.”
Fortunately, most days, he takes a sunnier outlook — the clinic’s batting average is in the high 90s. It’s scoring points with students, too —there’s always a surplus of applicants for the eight student positions available per semester.
The clinic opened in summer 2006 with funding from the Attorney General’s Office. Students work in teams of two per case, serving middle- and low-income clients with claims under $100,000.
The clinic’s cases run the gamut, from improper trading, to an investor mortgaging her home to pay for what turned out to be a highly speculative stock, to retroactive and prospective management fees appearing out of the blue from brokerage houses.
Most often, the clinic’s clients tend to be elderly persons who’ve lost their nest eggs after taking improper investment advice — say, for example, an 80 year old making an investment that the broker knows won’t pay off for another 20 years.
With Pew’s experience comes a level head and an open mind. While he sympathizes with the individuals coming to the clinic for help and shares the public’s growing concerns about the rippling, catastrophic effects of the actions of some brokers, he encourages students to keep things in perspective.
“This is your kind of run of the mill, young neighbor across the street who is a stock broker. He of course has his own economic reasons for wanting to sell stock,” he tells them.
Pew points to problems in the areas of responsibility and management — not only in the brokerage firms, but in clearing houses as well.
“Theoretically, they have computer and hands-on management rules to oversee what brokers are doing, and I get the feeling that that’s not been observed as much as it should be,” he says.
In his own work, management and mentoring are responsibilities that Pew takes very seriously. There’s not a telephone call or meeting with the clinic’s clients or opposing counsel for which he is not present.
At the same time, he appreciates the importance of turning the reigns over to students as soon as possible. He relishes watching them learn through this unique form of hands-on experience.
All joking aside, Pew’s belief in the arbitrative process. “It’s much more in terms of ‘let’s reason together here,’” he says. “And it teaches students some skills that can develop into court skills.
“And at the same time, arbitration itself is becoming ever more prevalent in the entire system. I understand that at FINRA [the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the largest independent securities regulator in the United States], the number of cases filed this year is running much higher than last year because of what’s happening in the stock market. Some people claim that very soon, there will be more arbitrations filed than court cases. It’s just a burgeoning field,” Pew said.
Pew holds a B.A. from Tulane University, an M.P.P.A. from University of Wisconsin and a J.D. from George Washington University.
By Elaine Vitone