The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Elizabeth (Lisa) Vicens, Partner—Litigation
Elizabeth (Lisa) Vicens is a partner in Cleary’s New York office. Her practice focuses on a broad spectrum of securities enforcement, investigations and compliance, as well as securities litigation, with a concentration in complex, cross-border issues. She joined the firm in 2005 and became a partner in 2015.
Lisa frequently works on matters in Latin America, particularly enforcement matters involving clients in the region. Her litigation practice includes many notable securities actions and high-profile civil cases. She also has an active criminal pro bono practice.
Lisa Vicens earned her B.S. from Georgetown University in 2000 and her J.D. from New York University in 2005. She is licensed to practice law in New York.
Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.
I primarily work on enforcement and securities litigation matters, typically involving cross-border disputes. At any given point, I can be found working on a variety of diverse matters, often involving clients from Latin America. A large percentage of my time is spent working on internal investigations for clients of potential misconduct, which involves conducting interviews, reviewing relevant documents, and making findings with respect to the client’s potential exposure and any remedial actions it should undertake. Such investigations may run parallel to investigations by regulatory authorities or civil litigation brought by shareholders or other parties, and I am also often involved in those parallel proceedings. In addition, I recently have been spending a good amount of time assisting clients with risk assessments and in helping them enhance their compliance programs.
What types of clients do you represent?
Our firm has a strong and thriving practice in Latin America, an area I have a particular interest in, and I have been fortunate enough to work with clients in the region. This entails representing U.S. companies with subsidiaries or investments in Latin America. It also includes representing foreign issuers of U.S. securities. I recently represented Petrobras, the Brazil state-owned oil company, in the securities class action filed against it in the Southern District of New York in connection with the allegations of corruption arising out of the Operation Lava Jato corruption scandal, which recently resulted in a landmark settlement by a foreign issuer defendant. I also represent GOL Linhas Aerias, the largest Brazilian discount airline, in connection with an FCPA investigation by the DOJ and SEC.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
My securities and enforcement work can range from cases that make headlines around the world to complex matters that can significantly impact a client’s bottom line. I’ve represented Bank of America in investigations by the SEC, DOJ, New York Attorney General and U.S. Congress in connection with its acquisition of Merrill Lynch. Other financial institutions that I have worked with include Goldman Sachs in putative antitrust class action concerning benchmark rates, and Doral Bank, in connection with investigations by the DOJ and SEC of certain mortgage-backed securities. I have also advised on a number of governmental and internal investigations, including for Overseas Shipholding Group in connection with international tax issues, and IMAX Corporation in an SEC investigation and parallel shareholder class action asserting accounting fraud. The cross-border nature of my work means I’m often focusing on regulators in multiple jurisdictions.
How did you decide to practice in your area?
I knew early on in my career that I wanted to work at an international firm that would offer me the opportunity to work on complex, cross-border matters. I had received my masters in Latin American studies and hoped to marry my interests in the law and foreign studies. In law school, and through my internships, I developed a strong interest in litigation and enforcement. I felt so fortunate that I was able to find the perfect place to follow my interests and develop my skills in Cleary.
What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?
There is no such thing as a typical day—that is what excites me the most about my practice. My daily work can vary tremendously. I might be conducting interviews, making a presentation to a regulatory authority, or writing a brief in support of a motion to a court. My clients are mostly located abroad so I spend a fair amount of time traveling to Brazil, Mexico or some other country in Latin America.
What is the best thing about your practice area?
The best thing about my practice area is getting to work with a variety of lawyers across different practice areas to provide our clients with the best advice and service. Cleary is one of the few remaining lockstep firms and is truly international. Both of those characteristics mean that we are an integrated firm, and lawyers across practice areas and offices regularly collaborate to provide creative solutions to the complex problems our clients face. I have been fortunate enough to work closely with lawyers in other practice areas and offices on cross-border matters that raised numerous challenging and interesting issues. Forging those relationships and experiencing the diversity that comes with an integrated firm has made my practice exciting and enjoyable.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
The most challenging aspect of my practice has also been the most rewarding: providing advice to clients on complex and novel questions of law. There is nothing as satisfying as helping a client resolve a complex matter. However, the path that leads to that resolution is always going to have bumps and turns, and it is overcoming those obstacles that makes the work rewarding.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
My practice sits at the intersection of securities law and criminal law. Accordingly, there are useful classes that students can take, including securities regulation, criminal law, and evidence, that would be helpful to them in developing the fundamentals for this type of practice. I also believe developing some experience in the real world can be equally, if not more, important. For example, participating in a prosecutorial or defense clinic can provide first-hand practical experience. First-year internships at a U.S. Attorney’s Office or the SEC also can also provide that exposure and experience. Finally, activities such as moot court or as a legal volunteer can supplement those experiences and help young lawyers learn how to think on their feet.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions that exists about my practice area is that there is always one right answer. Our clients typically come to us because they have been confronted with a novel or potentially “bet the company” type of challenge. Often there is no right answer that can remove all uncertainty, nor is there usually an easy answer. Accordingly, our clients rely on our advocacy to manage that uncertainty and help make their position the one that the court or regulatory authority ultimately adopts. Because there are no right or easy answers, learning how to think critically and creatively and developing sound judgment is important in order to navigate that uncertainty. As a result, our job is not just about writing or oral advocacy, which is sometimes a common misconception.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm, and how has it evolved since you have been at the firm?
What really makes our firm stand out is the complexity and size of the litigation and enforcement matters that our clients engage us to handle. They draw upon our experience in managing these types of matters, which often involve numerous jurisdictions and regulatory authorities. As our practice has evolved, I have seen clients approaching us with these kinds of matters more frequently.
What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?
When I am not in the office, I enjoy spending time with my kids, who are 3 and 7. They are so much fun and make me experience life in New York in an entirely different way. I make time for them because it is important, and it really is as simple as that.