The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Sharon Nelles, Partner—Litigation Group

Sharon Nelles is a partner in Sullivan & Cromwell’s Litigation Group and sits on its Management Committee. She represents global players in securities-related matters before Congress, federal agencies, and federal and state courtrooms. Sharon has navigated her clients through high-stakes securities litigation and investigations, securing favorable resolutions and precedential decisions. In 2016, the National Law Journal recognized her as a “Litigation Trailblazer,” Benchmark recognized her as one of the “Top 10 Women in Litigation” and Law360 recognized her as one of the “25 Most Influential Women in Securities Law.”

Outside of the firm, Sharon does work for organizations that support women in the profession and promote breast cancer awareness and provide legal services for persons suffering from breast cancer. She has represented victims of sexual assault on college campuses on a pro bono basis. The National Organization for Women recognized her for that work in 2015.

Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.

Sullivan & Cromwell’s securities litigation practice is well- known for taking on the highest-profile, most complex securities litigation matters before courts, arbitration panels, and regulators in the U.S. and jurisdictions around the world. Much of that work raises complex, cross-border issues. The firm has earned the trust of some of the world’s most demanding clients, who repeatedly turn to S&C to represent them in high-stakes matters. It is our pleasure and honor to develop such deep relationships with our clients.

One of the reasons we are able to sustain these relation- ships—which often call on our securities litigators to take on a wide range of issues in many fora, from Congress to courtrooms—is our commitment to working collaboratively with our corporate banking and regulatory lawyers to give holistic representation on any manner of significant matters.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent a diverse range of clients, including financial institutions, financial service providers, and global companies. I have worked for, among many others, Volkswagen and Moody’s, The St. Joe Company, JPMorgan Chase, Standard Chartered Bank, Goldman Sachs, Diageo, Microsoft, and Eastman Kodak Company.

What types of deals and/or cases do you work on?

I represent clients in matters that implicate not only securities litigation but also often related regulatory, congressional, and criminal investigations and enforcement actions. My practice involves cleaning up “big messes.” I frequently represent clients in high-profile, potentially franchise-threatening situations, such as my current work for Volkswagen and the aggressive onslaught of investigations and litigation faced by financial institutions in the wake of the financial crisis. I cut my teeth on financial and accounting fraud investigations way back when.

One of my favorite securities litigation cases involved my representation of Moody’s in the consolidated securities class actions brought under Section 10(b) and 20 (a) of the Securities Exchange Act that the company faced following its downgrades of swaths of subprime mortgage-backed securities. These actions alleged that Moody’s made false and misleading statements concerning its rating methodologies and its management of conflicts of interest. The plaintiffs sought recovery for a more than 50 percent decline in Moody’s share price and the loss of more than $7 billion in market capitalization. After first defeating class certification, rather than settle, Moody’s allowed my team and me to fight on, establish lack of causation, and obtain a full dismissal on summary judgment. This also allowed for a settlement of the related shareholder derivative litigation based solely on prophylactic measures—not dollars. I also represented Moody’s in the related crisis-era investigations, including their recent settlement with United States and 21 states.

How did you decide to practice in your area?

My first matter was a great one—a case filed by the receiver for National Heritage Life Insurance Co. It had many interesting components: the theft of insurance assets, fraud on a financial institution, falsified audio recording, a Giacometti lifted from the trunk of a car, and meetings with FBI agents at a certain NYC club caught up in the action. That case ended up inspiring a “Law and Order” episode. My next case was the Bre-X gold mine scam, the largest swindle in mining history. I believe, almost two decades later, that matter is the inspiration for an upcoming movie starring Matthew McConaughey. Who says securities litigation is dry?! Following this case, I worked with Philip L. Graham Jr., former managing partner of Sullivan & Cromwell’s litigation group, for another client in a years-long SEC probe into the company’s accounting practices. That matter allowed me to develop a lasting relationship with the client, and learn how meaningful such a relationship can be. After that, I was hooked.

What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?

The lawyers at S&C don’t really have a “typical” day. Of course, that is what makes it constantly engaging. Strategies worked out on Monday may be completely overtaken by events on Wednesday or Thursday. The cases and clients we work with are diverse and the issues faced are often moving targets. We handle a lot of novel issues. I would say the part of my day that is “typical” is the constant collaboration with my team, of course, but also with my partners generally. I spend a lot of time consulting with colleagues in and out of the litigation group to gather a lot of perspectives and, hopefully, craft the best arguments, paths, and solutions for the client.

What is the best thing about your practice area?

First and foremost, the people I work for and with. Second, the fact that my cases are generally multi-faceted, including civil, criminal, regulatory, and congressional components. The fact that each piece intersects with and can affect the others is both challenging and interesting. I look at the pieces, consider the ways they may fit together, and come up with a strategy to solve what is really a puzzle.

What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?

Not getting lost in one aspect of a case and trying to continue to view the case as a whole, even while paying close attention to detail. Also getting enough sleep.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone hoping to enter your practice area?

Look to partners whose skills and work approach you admire and find opportunities to work with them. Recognize that details matter and the person who knows the facts is the most important person on the case. Be present. Be interested. Be team oriented. And consult!

What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?

Securities work is interesting, challenging, and not at all boring. It is critical to the functioning of our capital markets. If you work in this area, you will be exposed to some of the most challenging cases in the legal profession, and some of the most interesting people in the business community.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Our litigators have the opportunity to work all sides of a matter—from securities class actions to enforcement actions. You might be negotiating with the government in the morning then fighting with all your heart in a courtroom that same afternoon. The problems have become ever more complex, and the data that must be understood to represent a client well is infinitely greater than in the days of paper files, but our practice has evolved with the challenge.

At the same time, one constant has been the closeness of the litigation and general practice groups. The collaborative approach enables us to provide expertise that is industry-or transaction-specific as it may come into play in a case. This in turn allows us to be broad counselors to our clients, build lasting relationships with them on many matters, and not find ourselves in a “specialist” silo.

What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?

Travel with my two college-aged daughters, whenever and wherever possible. Movies with my husband. Socializing with friends. How do you make time? You just do. It is not always a perfect balance, but when you prioritize time out of the office, it happens.

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