The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Dana M. Seshens, Partner—Litigation
Dana Seshens is a partner in Davis Polk’s Litigation Department. Her practice focuses on complex commercial litigation, securities class actions, and bankruptcy litigation. She has extensive experience representing corporate clients and professional firms with respect to a wide range of civil litigation and advisory matters. Law360 named her a 2014 Rising Star in Securities Litigation. Dana is one of Davis Polk’s two hiring partners. She received her B.A., magna cum laude, from Duke University and her J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center. Following law school, she clerked for the Honorable Carol Bagley Amon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Dana joined Davis Polk in 2003 and was elected partner in 2011.
Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.
My securities litigation practice focuses on representing clients facing civil litigation brought under federal or state securities laws. It ranges, to name just a few examples, from representing clients who have been sued as issuers of a security, to clients who have served as underwriters, to public company clients who have been sued for statements made to shareholders in connection with their annual share- holder meeting. Typically, shareholders bring the suits and claim that our client either has misrepresented something in the offering or other documents filed with the SEC, or omit- ted information that the shareholder thinks is material.
I also represent clients in antitrust class actions, bankruptcy litigation, and other complex commercial litigation.
What types of clients do you represent?
I often represent institutional clients in securities litiga- tion, which generally means banks and affiliated financial institutions who participated in the particular securities transaction or transactions that are the subject of the suit. This includes major financial institutions and auditors, such as Morgan Stanley and PricewaterhouseCoopers. I also represent securities issuers, which are the companies whose securities are being sold or whose SEC filings are at issue.
What types of deals and/or cases do you work on?
I am fortunate to work on a broad range of securities litiga- tion matters, from large securities class actions involving numerous parties to one-shareholder cases that reach beyond just securities issuances. Over the past few years I have spent considerable time defending Morgan Stanley in a number of securities cases related to residential mortgage- backed securities. I also recently represented Aetna, Inc. in a shareholder lawsuit involving Aetna’s disclosure of its political contributions. Another major case I worked on over the past few years was defending the owners of the New York Mets in connection with litigation arising out of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. Although that was a case that originated in the bankruptcy court, it had several securities law components.
How did you decide to practice in your area?
I have always been interested in the financial markets—how they work, what moves them, the role shareholders play in them. A natural area for me to practice would have been in a transactional group—but I always wanted to be a litiga- tor and was less interested in deal work. When I realized that there was a whole world of litigation that arose out of transactions in the financial markets, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?
Given the scope and diversity of my practice, there really is no typical day or week. Depending upon where in the litigation process my cases are at any given time, I spend time drafting and arguing motions, preparing witnesses, defending and taking depositions, and, of course, preparing for trial. I also always fold into my days and weeks strategy discussions with both co-defendants and clients, depending upon the nature of the case. As part of the work that I do, I also regularly meet with my case teams to discuss and strategize about issues in the case. My case teams are typically comprised of lawyers at all levels, from first years to senior associates, and our collaborative approach ensures that we offer the best solutions for our clients.
I also devote a good deal of time to firm initiatives outside my practice. I recently became one of the firm’s two hiring partners, and I previously served as co-chair of Davis Polk’s alumni committee.
What is the best thing about your practice area?
I would say the interdisciplinary nature of the practice is one of the best parts. It marries securities transactions with complex litigation and gives rise to some of the most interesting and cutting-edge legal issues. None of the legal issues are ever simple, and I really enjoy having to dig into a complicated issue to try and break it down to its simplest form and then synthesize it with the rest of the case. It is always presenting new intellectual and strategic challenges.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
In securities litigation, we often represent clients in their most critical, sensitive, and high-profile matters. There is a lot on the line in these cases—often billions of dollars and sometimes a company’s reputation or livelihood—and it is our job to get the best result for our client. Providing advice and guidance in these matters can be challenging, but it is usually that challenge that makes the practice as interesting and rewarding as it is.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone hoping to enter your practice area?
Although nothing can compare to on-the-job training, there are certainly classes and experiences I would recommend for someone interested in securities litigation. Of course, taking courses in law school on securities regulation, corporations, and legal writing are key, but I also would recommend doing clinical work, moot court, or any kind of experience that lets you write and argue, irrespective of the subject matter. Get- ting “on your feet” experience is invaluable, even at the early stages of your career.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?
I wish I would have known that sometimes cases move slowly. Often times that may be beneficial for your client, in which case there is no reason to change anything about the pace of a litigation, but I also like to keep things moving and to keep pressure on our adversary. I have learned over the years when it is best to apply pressure and when it is best to sit back and let events unfold, but I had not appreciated before I started practicing that different litigations would move at different paces and that there would be times to go fast and times to go slow. You don’t really understand that dynamic until you experience it.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Davis Polk is unique in many ways. One thing that makes our securities litigation group unique is the consistent excellence of the practice that only gets stronger over time. I am so fortunate to practice with some of the leaders of the securities litigation bar, who take the time to mentor and teach both associates and partners. In part because Davis Polk is a lockstep firm (another unique characteristic), partners are always willing to take the time to help their fellow partners, as well as associ- ates. It makes for a more collaborative work environment, which ultimately inures to the benefit of our clients.
What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?
Like many New Yorkers, I enjoy experiencing what New York City has to offer—theater, museums, restaurants, etc. I also enjoy yoga, reading, and travel. Because I think it defeats the purpose of living and practicing law in a city as rich in culture and history as New York to “live” in my office, I ensure that I find time to do the things that I enjoy. If I know there is a par- ticular show I want to see or a trip I want to take, I may work a bit harder in the days or weeks leading up to the event to make sure that I clear the time to do it. That may mean that I have less free time for a few days, but it is worth it to do what I really want to do.