Alum Still Enjoying the Ride at SEC
Despite having spent 17 years investigating federal securities violations at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Roberto Tercero, JD ’89, is still as excited about his work as a new lawyer might be: “It’s kind of like having an E ticket at Disneyland where you get to go on the best rides. And the capital markets keep adding new rides.”
Tercero explained, “One of the things that has kept this job fresh is that you may be working on a more standard investigation…but all of a sudden some big new problem happens with retail practices of mutual funds or a new investment product [which involves] questionable practices…[Then] you get back to the standard cases, and it’s fresh again. That’s the fun of the job.”
As a senior counsel in the Enforcement Division, Tercero conducts civil investigations. These include insider trading, market manipulation, financial reporting and accounting fraud. At the close of his investigation, Tercero has the option to recommend that the Commission pursue a federal lawsuit, an administrative action or no enforcement action at all. Oftentimes, Tercero collaborates with other federal agencies, such as the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the IRS, Criminal Investigation Division and the Treasury Department.
Not all of Tercero’s cases proceed at the federal level; he has also worked with state securities commissions and DA’s offices. In fact, state level investigations can sometimes become extremely interesting. One case, for example, Tercero notes, “[i]nvolved a $230 million Ponzi scheme, and we worked with the DA’s office. At the bail hearing, the judge said to the defendant, ‘Okay, I have the facts. You can get out on bail if you post $230 million bail.’ We were dumbfounded.”
Tercero didn’t plan a career focused on white collar investigations. He came to Stanford Law School with an interest in international business transactions and chose the school because it had a solid reputation in that area. He worked on the Stanford Journal of International Law for two and a half years while he was here, but found that he truly enjoyed the litigation projects he was assigned at his 1L summer job: “[Litigation] turned out to be really fun so I happily stumbled into this work.”
He counsels students, “It’s okay not to know what you want to do. You can change your mind, and you can change it more than once. Don’t worry. You’re going to change your jobs numerous times during your career. I’m sort of the outlier. Most of my friends have changed jobs 3 to 4 times at least; I only changed once.”
Tercero adds, “If you don’t get quite what you wanted the first time around, you’ll get it the next time. Having a Stanford Law School degree allows you to be bold. If you decide you really want to take a chance and do public interest, government, or private work in a narrow field, you are not going to get shut out of doing other things at a later time. There’s always a way back.”
After graduation, Tercero worked at Heller Ehrman for a few years, but once his student loans were paid off, “I essentially cut my salary in half to join the SEC. It’s a blast. I do the best, most fascinating legal work in securities law.” He continues, “How many private firm attorneys get to work on an insider trading case, a market manipulation or a mortgage-backed securities case, where there’s possible government interest? Some folks do that work, and it’s a growth area for law firms. But it’s relatively few private sector lawyers with that kind of practice whereas staff attorneys have that experience at the SEC daily.”
Yet Tercero notes that his initial experiences at a firm provided a solid foundation, particularly in writing. “You do the most and best writing when you are at a private law firm,” Tercero believes. “Writing is such an extraordinarily important skill, no matter what you do in law. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t need to be a good writer. In terms of just pure skill development, you certainly need to make sure you get the opportunity to write.”
For students who plan to begin their careers at a big firm, Tercero advises, “If you are really interested in going into public interest later, look for a firm that has made a commitment to public interest. Every firm has a culture. If you’re surrounded by people who share some of your interests, I think it’s easier and more fulfilling while you work there. Look for a firm that does some public interest work and does so gladly.”
He also urges students to make the most of their time at Stanford. “My own recommendation is to do something you think you might like that you’d never do if you had to pay the bills every single month. Do something you’d really like to try. Because being bold is being free and being free allows you to be bold. Students are very free.”
Tercero confesses, “I didn’t take my own advice. I kind of wish I had. There were some really great public interest opportunities [at Stanford] that I really wish I had done. I learned [about them] while I was in private practice because I…represented medically fragile kids that had to deal with a very inappropriate teacher who lacked critical training. The students didn’t have what they needed under the [Americans with Disabilities Act] and other federal legislation. It was just a terrific experience to help them. I wish I had done some of that work while I was in law school."
He also shares some more practical advice related to networking. “While it may sound mercenary, you need to get to know your fellow law school students, whether they’re in your class or not. If you do go into private practice, the most common way you get work is through someone you know, often another lawyer.”
Tercero concludes, “Generally, you’ve got to do something long-term that you really enjoy. In the short-term, you have to pay the bills, but in the short to medium-term, you need to figure out what you want to try next that you believe could be a long-term possibility. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the process of finding what you have passion for. If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry, everybody else is going to change jobs, too. It may feel like failure, but that kind of failure – even if painful – is progress.”
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Students: Register for the Justice Bus Alternative Spring Break Trip
The Levin Center is joining our long-time partner, the Justice Bus Project, to enable Stanford Law School students to volunteer at legal clinics in isolated, rural California during Spring Break.
On March 27, the Justice Bus Project will take up to 8 Stanford Law School students on a one-day trip to Salinas, CA to help California Rural Legal Assistance conduct field observations on farms and document occupational health and safety violations. Law students will also have an opportunity to draft letters to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).
Past trips have included overnight stays in Mariposa and Truckee, as well as other one-day trips to Watsonville.
The March 27 Justice Bus trip is open to all Stanford law students, including 1L students. Bilingual Spanish speaking students are encouraged to attend; however, Spanish language skills are not required.
To sign up, email Candace Chen and include: 1) your name, 2) year of graduation, 3) language ability, 4) a statement of interest—no more than one paragraph, and 5) if you have a car and are willing to drive other law student volunteers.
Pictured above are students from the 2011 Truckee trip.
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SLS Students Update ABA's Judges' Resource Manual
Michael Greco, Chair of the ABA Working Group on Civil Right to Counsel and past President of the ABA has offered Stanford Law Students an exciting opportunity to participate in the update of the ABA's Judges' Resource Manual, which is designed to ensure that judges in all 50 states have accurate information regarding legal authority for appointment of counsel for indigents in civil cases.
We congratulate Deepika Ravi, JD '12, Shannon Barnard, JD '12, Piotr Korzynski, JD '12, Allie Leeper, JD' 13 and Stephanie Lake, JD '12 for their over 100 hours of work in completing ABA Access to Justice memos for five states. Thanks to their hard work, SLS leads the pack among law schools for number of memos completed for this important project.
Greco is still seeking volunteers to update other states' information. Please contact Betsy de la Vega, our Director of the Pro Bono and Externship Programs, if you are interested.
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Join Us March 22 for Public Interest Happy Hour in New York City
SLS alumni and guests are invited to join Diane Chin, Associate Dean for Public Service and Public Interest Law and Lecturer in Law, for a casual happy hour and conversation at the Royalton Hotel in New York City on Thursday, March 22 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Please RSVP to the official invite from Alumni Relations.
Diane will be talking about new public interest developments at the law school, including programs, courses and research, as well as the growth of the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law.
Appetizers and hosted wine will be provided courtesy of Alumni Relations and the Levin Center, and there is no fee to attend.
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Save the Date! May 22 Spring Public Interest Reception in Neukom
Join faculty, students, alumni and staff for our annual spring public interest awards reception. It will be on Tuesday, May 22 starting at 5:30 pm on the beautiful second floor terrace of the Neukom Building.
We will honor recipients of public interest scholarships and graduates from the class of 2012 who earned Pro Bono Distinction.
RSVP now. Light refreshments will be served.
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Redistricting Symposium Draws Scholars, Practitioners, and Students
In conjunction with the Stanford Law and Policy Review (SLPR), the Levin Center hosted a symposium, "Redrawing the Maps: Redistricting, Race, and Representation in the Next Decade," on Saturday, January 28th.
Many of the scholars who presented at the symposium will be publishing articles in SLPR's next issue, volume XXIII.
Pictured above are Professors Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School and Nathaniel Persily, JD '98, of Columbia Law School, who provided an overview of what's at stake in the redistricting process.
C-SPAN also covered the entire symposium and is scheduled to air the program. Links to the C-SPAN video are available on their website here. As of today, only four of the programs are available to view.
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Students Trek East for Yale Law School's RebLaw Conference
Four SLS students headed east for Yale Law School's 18th annual Rebellious Lawyering (RebLaw) conference on Friday, February 17 through Saturday, February 18, 2012. UCLA Professor Gerald Lopez, author of "Rebellious Lawyering: One Chicano's Vision of Progressive Law Practice," gave the keynote address.
The Levin Center provides travel grants to help students attend this and other public interest conferences.
Ellie Dehghan, JD '12, explained, "RebLaw is a conference that brings together law students eager to effect change and passionate about social justice issues and attorneys who are seasoned in relevant fields of interest. However, what I most appreciated about the RebLaw conference was the forum it provided for honest discussions of the answer to the question, “What’s next?” RebLaw went above simply educating passionate students about social justice issues and acquainting them with the attorneys who are effecting change in those areas. It helped bridge the gap between passionate eager students and the work they want to do – the work their role models are already doing. Not only was there a panel on the different strategies for attaining public interest positions post law school, which of course included the traditional fellowship routes, but there was also an open
forum afterwards where students talked with each other about the challenges they face entering the public interest sphere post graduation. This was refreshing and incredibly informative."
Adam Sieff, JD '14, noted, "At RebLaw, I heard from lawyers, yes, but also organizers, activists and victims. I heard from individuals who had been haled into court, or else had not known where to turn when they had a claim to make. I learned about programs that fail the very people who rely on them, and institutions that make them difficult to change. I had the opportunity to meet peers and share stories about what brought us to the conference, and what we hope to achieve in our communities after we graduate. Cases are more real when I read them now, and I’m even more committed to using my legal training to increase the accessibility of justice, and reform failing institutions. I’m indebted to the Levin Center for facilitating this trip. The friends I made will be allies in the future, and the experience I had will shape my next two years as a law student."
Jennifer Ingram, JD '12 observed, "My long-time interest in international law drew me immediately to the Crime, But Not Punishment: Restorative Justice As An Alternative to Criminal Prosecution in Domestic & International Contexts panel, but all I could do during the questions-and-answers period was think about the emerging issues surrounding ongoing social conflict. In just a weekend I had become even more interested in taking part in a real dialogue instead of taking even these respected panelists at face-value, an apt lesson before graduation. As I leave SLS, I am comforted to know that there does exists a group of people attending the country’s top law schools dedicated to effecting change. Even if this group has not yet reached a critical mass, I am more confident than ever of the role I wish to play in tackling these issues after I leave SLS and its
supportive staff and faculty who have given me this and similar opportunities during my time here."
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