Wisconsin Law Journal
Three innovative Wisconsin attorneys have three things in common. They all practice within their own small firms, and they all serve clients nationwide. But what makes them stand out as leaders for the most part is a third commonality: They’re all practicing in areas that didn’t exist when they were in law school.
If not for the infamous Bernie Madoff. Brian H. Mahany might not have a cutting-edge practice concentration. Madoff’s arrest and conviction drew the public’s attention to, and outrage about, financial fraud.
Mahany of Mahany & Ertl LLC, first ventured into asset recovery in 2008, when a fellow attorney lamented to him what appeared to be a sizeable, uncollectable judgment. Relying heavily upon his background in law enforcement, Mahany saw it as an opportunity to prevent someone who’d engaged in employment discrimination from getting away with fraud.
The judgment has since been satisfied and Mahany now dedicates about 50 percent of his work time in asset recovery.
“Asset recovery has just started to become a specialty practice area for lawyers, investigators, law enforcement and accountants,” said Mahany. “The Madoff scandal, rapid increase of sophisticated cross-border frauds and the rise of foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecutions have created a need for skilled professionals who understand complex fraud and can recover hidden assets for victims.”
In another case, a client lost more than $1 million to a fraudulent investor. In addition to discovering that all of the investor’s credentials were false, Mahany’s law partner. Christopher J. Ertl, and a private investigator posed as prospective investors and got the evidence they needed to make sure their client was made whole.
Mahany believes his small, Milwaukee based firm is the only one in the state with a dedication in asset with a dedicated concentration in asset recovery.
While private investigators and fraud experts have been around for quite some time, it’s only recently that lawyers have pursued asset recovery as a concentration. What lawyers bring is familiarity with for eign legal systems.
Lawyers make mark in new areas
Assets are often secreted off-shore, in countries where banks operate with the little transparency and government oversight. Lawyers also offer knowledge of the U.S. civil legal process: for example, an investigator cannot subpoena bank records pursuant to a fraudulent conveyances cause of action, but a lawyer can.
What make the practice so rewarding per Mahany, is “I still like to see the good guys win once in a white. I’m not going after businesses that have entered into transact and how to manage and preserve the information.
To the best of her knowledge, Twigger is one of only three e-discovery lawyers in boutiques in the U.S., and hers was the first.
One of Twigger’s litigation clients had more than a terabyte of discoverable information, or about 1,300 gigabytes. It usually costs about $300 to process just one gigabyte of information thus her client was facing approximately $390,000 to process that information.
However, because probably only 10 percent of that terabyte of information was relevant to the dispute, she and the client managed to cull that information before processing it – she often relies on vendors at that stage.
They narrowed the information down to roughly 100 gigabytes for processing, costing $30,000 and saving the client some $360,000.
In addition to her prowess with technology, Twigger’s clients rely on her knowledge of the burgeoning e-discovery caselaw. There are new developments almost daily between Jan. I and June 17 of 2010, 103 e-discovery decisions were released in the U.S.
And, on the interpersonal level, she offers peace of mind.
“I think many of those who are charged with being in compliance with e-discovery what w-discovery vendors are selling. And, they don’t ‘speak’ IT…
“What they need is a steering committee that works with the business units legal, records and IT, so they all sit down and figure out what their litigation looks like, what their goals. Often there’s no one person in an organization who can help lead that charge. So that’s a role play.”
Combining IT and IP
During Timothy J. Nuckles’ 16 years in house at an insurance company. He fondly recalls the “Big Blue” IBM mainframe crunching numbers, primitive e-mail iterations, and then the introduction of soft ware. Over time, he was designated the de facto “technology” transactions guy.” Because he displayed the most knowledge and interest in these and other developments.
“At some point, I realized that there was a pretty strong demand, that wasn’t being fulfilled in the marketplace for attorneys,” Nuckles said. “So four or five years ago, I went out on my own, into intellectual property transactions, which is what I do now.”
To be precise, Nuckles, of Nuckles Law Firm in Wausau, represents buyers and sellers of IT products and services in buy-sell and licensing transactions. He also offers patent search and prosecution services, but getting a back on track or remediating losses.
There are large firm lawyers who do what he does. But Nuckles says they usually do a deal or two annually, in addition to a wide range of other corporate law services. What distinguishes him, and a handful of other small-firm lawyers in the U.S. with similar practices, is they offer far fewer services. But because that’s all they do, they have more IT transaction experience and knowledge.
Nuckles adds that he’s “lost” just one client since that the client/company was acquired, and he’s unsure if the new ownership will retain him – but he’s hopeful they will.
Even if they don’t, he’s got a compelling pitch for potential clients.
“I’ m AC/DC: I represent both sides, buyers and sellers.” he said. “And that’s what I really bring to the table: my understanding of both sides, and market-sense that I’ve built up over the years. I try to be a consensus builder whenever I can”
For the most part it’s an upbeat practice, sans the negativity that often accompanies litigation. And, the deals follow definite timelines – they don’t take years to be finalized, as litigation can.