Lawyer Limelight: Lawrence Sucharow
Photo provided by Labaton Sucharow

Lawrence Sucharow says that “anger” at the endless string of Wall Street scandals has been an important motivating force in his distinguished career spanning more than three decades. But his reputation as a reasonable and courteous litigator amongst defense attorneys contributed equally to his place on our most recent Lawdragon 500 annual list.Sucharow is chair of New York’s Labaton Sucharow, which specializes in  securities and antitrust class actions. The firm counts more than $8 billion in settlements for clients over the years.

Lawdragon: I notice you did your undergrad work at Baruch and then law school at Brooklyn Law. Have you always been in the area?

Lawrence Sucharow: I have always been a "New Yorker.“ I was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Queens, and have always worked in Manhattan, even though I have lived in New Jersey for the past 35 years.

LD: How did you decide to go to law school? And specifically why did you choose Brooklyn Law?

LS: I wish I could say it was a lifelong goal or dream to go to law school. But, actually it was a decision by default. I knew I wanted to be a professional, or at least my mother wanted me to be one. I took a citywide exam and qualified to go to Brooklyn Tech High School for engineering. To put it mildly, it wasn’t an area that reflected my talents.  I went to the Baruch School of The City College of New York for accounting and found myself bored.  I would have tried medical school, but I can't stand the sight of blood, so….

As for why Brooklyn Law, it was and is a well- respected law school with, most importantly, an evening division. That was critical for a lower middle-class kid like me who had to work while attending high school and college, yet alone law school. I have been forever grateful to the law school for fighting the trend of other law schools in discontinuing evening classes. It gives thousands of students like me that most important gift – opportunity.

LD: Was there a favorite course or professor that was particularly influential in convincing you a legal career was the right choice?

LS: I can't recall a teacher or professor pointing me in that direction. I do recall having a driving need to always be right, which led me to a lot of "discussions" with friends and family to establish that I was, of course, correct. More than one of them suggested a career in law would suit me.

LD: After passing the bar, what led you into plaintiff-side securities litigation?

LS: Once again I wish I could say it was planned and then accomplished. The truth is it happened by accident. My law school friend and now partner, Joel Bernstein, took a law clerk job after his second year of law school. My wife and I thought that was a great idea and I asked Joel if, as a result of his search, he knew of any openings. He pointed me to a three-lawyer firm, now defunct, who had offered him a job but at slightly less salary than the one he accepted. I applied and got the law clerk job.

It wasn't until after I accepted that I learned that they were a boutique that specialized in the arcane field of plaintiff securities actions - one of maybe only five to ten firms in the United States that regularly did so at the time. I gained valuable experience, enjoyed the work and never looked back. I also liked the fact that I opposed all the classic "white shoe" firms that had rejected my job applications when I was graduated from law school.

LD: Was there a case early on that you feel really helped establish your reputation in the field?

LS: I believe my reputation was established more by how I treated my colleagues and adversaries rather than any particular case. I believe that I am persuasive and that many of my ideas had and have merit since they are accepted and successfully implemented. I take a very practical approach to litigation and disagreements and tend to propose practical solutions which work for both sides. Unlike many litigators, I don't fight for the sake of fighting. I fight when other alternatives have been exhausted. I find there is much common ground if you have a meritorious claim.

LD: What has kept you at it? What about this practice keeps you passionate on a daily basis?

LS: Two things come to mind. The first is anger. Yes, anger at how many on Wall Street treat their investors. Even after scandals break and reforms are promised, it’s not long until the next scandal is revealed. It's truly appalling to me how many in the executive suites at America's top companies believe they are entitled to great riches at the expense of their company's shareholders. The second is the firm, my family. I work every day to assure the success of the firm both reputationally and financially. I have a lot of respect for my partners, associates and employees and want to be sure the firm continues for them.

LD: The 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, or PSLRA, and the Supreme Court decisions of the past decade have generally been seen as making class-action securities cases more difficult for plaintiffs. How has your firm been able to thrive in this environment?

LS: It's not just the reform act that has made the practice more difficult for plaintiffs, but we can start there. In the most traditional area, securities fraud class actions, I would say the number of regular law firm participants has declined from 50 or more at the height, to less than 10 now.

For my firm, success has required us to reinvest and reinvent. We had to invest in substantially upgrading our infrastructure to provide clients with incredible services and communication, as well as in non-attorney professional personnel such as accountants and investigators.  We also had to learn how to interact with and educate a whole new client base which the PSLRA invested with the power to control these types of cases – large, global institutional investors such as public pension funds and union welfare funds.

Many firms didn't try to adapt and continued a "business as usual" mentality until they were too far behind to compete in the new environment. I'm very proud of the early lofty goals we set for ourselves and what we've accomplished.

LD: Aside from the dollar amounts in recoveries, what type of place is Labaton Sucharow? When the firm is recruiting, what are the selling points?

LS: I'm probably not the best person to ask. I have tried to establish a firm with collegiality and respect. Where work is not the only reason to come to or stay at the office. I believe we are, in a true sense, family. Indeed, we are daily thrown together for longer hours than people's real families. Lawyers are typically intense personalities, but we do not tolerate disruptive or bullying personalities. I frequently hear such compliments as "this is the only place I would consider working.” That’s what I want. My wife started baking holiday cookies when we were 25 attorneys or so; she continues to this day even though it now takes her two months to bake for the 150-plus personnel. Personal touches like that are common and appreciated.

LD: What do you think is key to your approach as a litigator that enables you to secure large recoveries for your clients? What does it take to be a leader in this practice?

LS: I answered for myself above. But we have great depth in our partnership. What distinguishes us is not just the excellent legal work, but our willingness to be creative and imaginative. In many cases, it’s listening to what your adversary has to say and incorporating that into your thinking and proposed solution.

LD: Is there a lawyer on the other side of the table you run up against regularly whom you particularly admire, and why?

LS: That’s a loaded question. Let me answer this way. I have yet to find a litigation partner at Wachtell Lipton that is not unfailingly courteous, direct, honest, and a partner in trying to secure a reasonable solution to a litigation without any gamesmanship.

LD: What do you do for fun or to relax outside the office?

LS: I have a second home in Arizona and am fortunate that my partners allow me the time to enjoy it. I don't know if I can say it's relaxing, but I play a lot of golf and enjoy its different frustrations. One thing you can count on, they just don't build golf courses in ugly locations.