The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Julia Malkina, Partner—Litigation
Julia Malkina is a partner in S&C’s Litigation group. She joined the firm in 2015 after serving as a law clerk to Justices Sandra Day O’Connor (Ret.) and Stephen G. Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court, a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice, and a law clerk to then-Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Julia represents prominent corporations, financial institutions, and individuals in their most complex and high-stakes matters. Her practice comprises trial court litigation, appellate court litigation, and regulatory proceedings in a number of areas, including securities, commodities, and criminal law. Julia was named a 2020 Rising Star by the New York Law Journal for her representations in precedent-setting cases across those areas.
Julia also represents clients pro bono in criminal matters, both at the trial court level and on appeal. She is a member of S&C’s Women’s Initiative Committee, which seeks to recruit, retain, and advance the firm’s women lawyers.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
I am a member of S&C’s Litigation group, and a focus of my practice is securities litigation. I represent clients in shareholder class actions, shareholder derivative actions, and other shareholder disputes. Our Securities Litigation practice also includes managing investigations and enforcement actions brought by the SEC and other regulators that allege false statements to shareholders, insider trading, and other financial misconduct. Such investigations and enforcement actions are often brought concurrently with shareholder litigation, so we frequently engage with the government and private parties on related issues. As a securities litigator, I practice across federal and state courts, at the trial and appellate levels, and before regulators. Because S&C litigators are trained as generalists, my practice is broad and also encompasses commodities, white collar, and other areas.
What types of clients do you represent?
The breadth of my practice is also reflected in the diverse set of clients I represent—from leading financial institutions to multinational corporations to individuals. Those clients come from vastly different industries and are located around the world. For example, I have represented Goldman Sachs in a shareholder class action in federal district court, the Second Circuit, and the Supreme Court; Jumia Technologies AG, the largest e-commerce company in Africa, in IPO litigation in federal district court and state trial court; and the former chairman of five public companies in more than 15 shareholder and consumer class actions, shareholder opt-out actions, and shareholder derivative actions in federal district court, state trial court, and the Third Circuit.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Recently, my securities litigation work has included a shareholder class action alleging securities fraud in connection with collateralized debt obligations and alleged conflicts of interest; parallel shareholder class actions alleging false disclosures in connection with a 2019 IPO; and shareholder class actions and shareholder opt-out actions alleging securities fraud in connection with mortgage-servicing activities and alleged conflicts of interest. The cases I work on can actively shape the development of securities law. My recent representations include precedent-setting cases charting the standard and the evidence courts may consider for rebutting price impact following the Supreme Court’s Halliburton II decision and testing important issues left unresolved by the Supreme Court’s Cyan decision. Reuters referred to the former, which the Supreme Court will hear this term, as a case that “could redefine the ability of shareholders to pursue class actions against public companies whose stock prices fall.”
How did you choose this practice area?
The complexity and stakes of the cases attracted me to securities litigation. The practice focuses heavily on legal analysis; many cases are won or lost on dispositive motions. We often deal with novel, evolving issues of law and litigate first-of-their-kind cases following—or sometimes even creating—pathmarking decisions by the Supreme Court and the courts of appeal. The cases, moreover, are of critical importance to our clients. Our clients often face outsized exposure because of the class-action mechanism in shareholder actions. For some clients, it’s their first major litigation as a public company or their first major U.S. litigation. And the stakes are always elevated when the SEC is involved.
I also found that my appellate background was a great fit for securities litigation because of the emphasis on legal analysis and writing. But unlike an appellate specialist, I get to do many things in addition to writing briefs, like taking depositions and preparing witnesses for interviews with regulators. I feel lucky to have found a practice that combines intellectually challenging analysis with a diverse range of tasks.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
My days vary significantly depending on what stage my cases are at. For example, at the motion-to-dismiss stage, I craft strategy and arguments on interesting and difficult legal issues. And I write, edit, and edit yet more so that we present those arguments as clearly and convincingly as we can. During fact discovery, I strategize about what documents we need from our adversaries and how we can rein in our document-production obligations. And I prepare for, take, and defend depositions. At the expert-discovery stage, I work with our experts, including preparing them for depositions. And I critically analyze our adversaries’ expert reports and develop lines of attack for depositions and Daubert motions. I truly enjoy the full arc of a matter; each stage brings unique challenges and pushes you in different ways.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Generally, I recommend trying to expose yourself to different areas of the law as much as you can in law school to develop a better understanding of what you enjoy thinking about. But that is only part of the puzzle. I find that people who are most passionate about their practice tend to enjoy both thinking about the legal issues in that area and doing the common tasks in that area. For the latter, there is no substitute to actually trying the work. Take advantage of your 1L and 2L summers, law school clinics, and other opportunities to dip your toes into what the work looks like in practice.
If you are interested in securities litigation (or any area of litigation for that matter), I recommend focusing on developing your writing skills: Take research and writing courses, select and edit writing for law journals, write briefs for clinics, comment on writing as a teaching assistant, or pursue a summer internship or clerkship with a judge. My clerkships and time at the Solicitor General’s Office were invaluable for learning how to craft the complex legal arguments that are essential to securities litigation.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
The most challenging aspects of securities litigation are also what I find most exciting and stimulating: The cases I work on are high stakes and often novel. They present outsized exposure or other significant risks for our clients and can be bet-the-company matters. Our clients place their trust in us for these securities litigations, and we do everything we can to get the best results for them. And the results really matter. Consequently, we must think critically through all options and weigh their benefits and drawbacks. Sometimes, we must advise on what can be difficult calls on whether to keep litigating.
Our cases can also raise issues of first impression. Securities litigation is a constantly evolving area of the law, and we frequently see Supreme Court and court of appeals decisions that alter the legal landscape. As a result, we must think creatively and frame innovative legal arguments. Litigating issues for the first time without a set playbook is certainly a challenge, but it’s one of the things I enjoy most about securities litigation.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I enjoy grappling each day with legal questions that are both interesting and difficult. The intellectual challenge is intense in the best way possible. It’s what allows me to continue to learn and grow. I also feel fortunate to get to practice with incredible colleagues in a culture that prizes collaboration and teamwork. What is more, that collaboration is not limited to any one securities litigation team. We collaborate across teams and across practice areas, which means I never hesitate to call a colleague when I have a question, would benefit from their input, or simply want to bounce ideas off of them. Our culture of collaboration is rooted in the fundamental view that our clients are clients of the firm, as opposed to of any individual lawyer. That is not only a terrific approach to client service, but it also makes our day-to-day more dynamic, interactive, and—simply put—fun.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Our junior lawyers’ tasks, just like mine, vary significantly depending on the stage of the case. For example, at the motion-to-dismiss stage, a junior associate might be researching key elements of our arguments or drafting sections of our motion. Indeed, more junior lawyers have an opportunity to distinguish themselves early in securities litigation because of the strong focus on writing. During fact discovery, a junior associate might be identifying important documents in our adversaries’ productions or drafting an outline for a deposition. And at the expert-discovery stage, a junior associate might be researching potential experts for our side or critically analyzing the reports of our adversaries’ experts. Regardless of the stage of litigation, our junior lawyers engage substantively with the issues. That is part of S&C’s ethos, and our teams are relatively leanly staffed to ensure that all are getting experience and contributing from the outset.
How important is it for securities litigators to have a business background and understanding of corporate law, and what should junior attorneys do if they don’t?
It’s important to have an understanding of corporate law—from state law fiduciary duties to federal law disclosure obligations to key procedural issues for securities litigation. You can start developing that understanding through law school courses, but you will invariably learn a great deal by doing. As for a business background, of course it can be helpful. But it’s certainly not required. What is essential is having a zeal for learning about your clients’ objectives, businesses, and organizations. Each client is unique, and you must be deeply attuned to each client’s needs to provide the best possible legal advice. So, adopt a growth mindset, and take every opportunity to learn and grow.