On Friday, February 10, Wake Forest School of Law hosted the Journal of Intellectual Property and Business Law’s Symposium on Banking Law: Current and Future Issues. One of the several panel discussions was entitled, “Life of an In-House Counsel.”
The Panel’s discussion largely centered on the effects of the Dodd-Frank Act and other regulations on their day-in, day-out jobs and lives. All involved generally viewed the Dodd-Frank act as cumbersome and superfluous. One panelist noted that the legislation includes provisions that merely codified existing practices but required hundreds of pages of additional paperwork and red tape that clients likely would not read because it already existed in other forms and formats. While the panelist noted that a positive impact of Dodd-Frank was that it led to more transparency and more information, he was not confident that all the additional information was necessary or helpful.
Instead of helping clients with making deals happen, the focus of an in-house counsel becomes ensuring compliance. Another panelist commented as well that because of Dodd-Frank and other regulations, his job has shifted from advocating for clients to counseling clients. The job of an in-house counsel becomes less about helping clients and banks figure out how to make deals happen and more about telling them the deal cannot happen because regulations and oversight prevent their transactions. While sounding like a benefit, both panelists gave examples of how at times the process can create more problems than it fixes. For example, in-house counsel for banks will get requests during a legal entity acquisition process where a regulator will contact them about why a specific special purpose entity has not been shut down even though different businesses and bank customers will still be using the very entity that the regulators want shut down.
As a former internal auditor and current lawyer focused on cybersecurity, another panelist was more optimistic about the role of regulators and regulation. The panelist saw the relationship as more symbiotic and mutually beneficial as both sides are educating themselves at the same time and trying to stay up-to-date on the latest technology and security concerns. Still, though, he was forced to admit as well that the process of dealing with state and federal regulators with national and international banks can be very problematic due to having to meet the standards of 50 different state regulators and a national standard, similar to the insurance industry.
For becoming an in-house counsel in the banking industry, all stressed the importance of having experience in an outside firm with bank clients, while still noting the indispensability of having a solid foundation in basic lawyering skills like communication.
Jacky Brammer is a second-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in American history and English from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master of Arts in English literature from The University of North Carolina Greensboro. Upon graduation, he intends to pursue a career in public interest law and criminal defense.