Photo by Laura Barisonzi.
Scoring a perfect trial record as an assistant U.S. attorney in the nation’s most elite prosecutorial branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, will invariably have its benefits – including options of where to take your rarefied set of skills in private practice. David Anders chose the ultra-elite Wachtell Lipton where, not surprisingly, he has thrived alongside what he considers the best peers you can find in the profession. Anders joined the firm in 2006 and became a partner less than two years later, handling investigations (by outside agencies and internal) and civil matters for the firm’s esteemed roster of clients. A proud and active alum of Fordham Law School, Anders also represents indigent defendants by serving on the Southern District’s Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel.
Lawdragon: Can you describe to our readers the mix of matters you’re typically working on these days? Do any trends in the white-collar or regulatory space stand out right now?
David Anders: I tend to handle high-profile, highly complex and highly intense matters which fall into one of three buckets: responding to government investigations, anything from DOJ to SEC to state AG investigations; conducting internal investigations – I do a lot of work for the National Basketball Association, so that would be an example of a purely internal investigation with no governmental component; and giving advice in connection with M&A transactions where there is a government/regulatory component. On top of those areas, I frequently handle civil cases – securities class actions or other disputes – that are related to or stem from a government investigation. And I’m on the CJA panel for the Southern District of New York, so I represent indigent individuals charged with crimes in that district. I’m currently scheduled for trial this Fall in a matter representing a defendant charged with the interstate transportation of stolen property.
I can’t exaggerate my good fortune to be doing all of this at Wachtell Lipton. I benefit not only from being part of a superb team, but from the renown and relationships that the firm’s excellence and intensity over many decades have made possible, which allows me to help address the most difficult problems of many of the world’s biggest and most interesting companies, financial institutions and organizations.
As for trends in the white-collar/regulatory space, the new area that I’m seeing is cyber. Companies are becoming more aware of the risks posed by cyber-hackers, and are seeking advice both on governance and regulatory issues and how to handle breaches. A cyber attack can cause a true corporate crisis, so the time and effort that companies devote to improving their defenses and planning their response to such an event is certainly time well-spent.
LD: Has your practice seen changes as a result of the change in administrations, either from less aggressive pressure or problems with staffing? Is the environment notably different in terms of negotiating with prosecutorial or regulatory agencies?
DA: The pendulum certainly seems to have shifted from the intense regulatory pressure that many companies felt over the last decade or so. And it may be fair to attribute some of this shift to politics, although not necessarily in the way you describe. For years, it felt as if DOJ and the SEC were under constant political pressure, largely emanating out of the financial crisis, to bring more and more cases and impose higher and higher penalties and fines. I have thought for years, going back to my days as a prosecutor, that politics and prosecution don’t mix well – political interference leads to unjust and unfair results. More recently, DOJ and the SEC seem to be under less pressure to bring cases, allowing those agencies, which are filled with people of integrity, to reach just results based solely on the facts and the law and not some outside political influence.
LD: You seem to have gone straight from Dartmouth to Fordham Law. When did you decide to become a lawyer, and why? Was it during undergrad or was this a goal that developed earlier?
DA: I decided I wanted to be a lawyer in undergrad. Dartmouth is on trimesters and requires students to work or study off campus for one term during the school year. I spent my off-term in Washington, D.C., working at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. I was fortunate to be assigned to work for a young associate named Steve Cutler, long before he became well-known as the Director of Enforcement at the SEC or chief legal officer at JP Morgan. I worked closely with him on a variety of securities litigation matters he was handling at the time; he tolerated my hanging around him all day and soaking in everything he did. He taught me many of the good habits that are necessary to be a successful lawyer. And I was fascinated by the work – I loved reading cases, even as a college student, and finding support for arguments. So that’s when I knew I wanted to be a lawyer.
LD: Was there any course, professor or experience at Fordham that was particularly influential to how your career turned out?
DA: I participated in a prosecution clinic my third year of law school. It was a full year clinic at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn. The Eastern District of New York had a student practice rule, which allowed law students to appear in court; so, in addition to working with an AUSA on his or her cases, we handled petty offense cases on our own. Students from New York University Law School, who were in a federal defender clinic, represented the defendants (opposing counsel included one of my best friends from college and my now sister-in-law). I was fascinated with the work and knew from that experience that I wanted the opportunity to be an AUSA. Everything I did in my early career after that was guided toward trying to get that chance.
LD: You have stayed active with Fordham after graduating. Can you share some thoughts about what makes the school special or why you developed a fondness for it?
DA: I taught first-year legal writing at Fordham for eight years and am now the President of the Fordham Law Alumni Association. So, yes, I have tried to stay active with Fordham after graduating. One of Fordham’s best attributes is the loyalty and collegiality among its alumni. It is in many ways more like an undergraduate school than a graduate school in the way that graduates support each other. That support helped me greatly early in my career and I have tried to return the favor to younger alumni as I got older.
LD: You handled several high-profile cases during your tenure at the U.S. Attorney's Office, including the WorldCom and the Quattrone prosecutions. Are there any cases or experiences that stand out from your time in the office, even if it’s one we did not hear about?
DA: While I really loved my entire 7-plus years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and can remember vividly everything from my very first bail argument to my first trial, the highlight for me was the 18-month period toward the end of my career during which I tried the Quattrone case twice, as the first trial ended in a hung jury; a death penalty case in which Judge [Jed] Rakoff had first ruled the death penalty unconstitutional until the Second Circuit reversed that decision; and the Bernard Ebbers case, which was the culmination of the WorldCom investigation. I was lucky enough that trial schedules worked out to allow me to do all those trials. The array of witnesses I dealt with during that period demonstrates the breadth of the opportunities and the rewarding nature of the experience of working at the office. I went from prepping and putting on as witnesses at trial a series of lawyers, to a series of drug dealers, to a series of accountants. It was 18 months of non-stop work – but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything
LD: Was there a mentor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office who was critical to your development as a trial lawyer?
DA: Judge Richard Sullivan was the Chief of Narcotics when I did three narcotics trials. He gave me great advice about how to try cases, how to put together a case for trial, how to structure direct examinations of difficult witnesses, and how to act in front of the jury, and he gave me confidence in my ability to do so.
LD: I read you had a perfect trial record as a prosecutor. Can you share a few ingredients that you think are key to your courtroom success?
DA: Without a doubt, the most important skill of a trial lawyer is preparation. Taking the time to master the discovery and prior witness statements and think through witness examinations is the most valuable thing a lawyer can do to be successful at trial. Beyond that, I believe I was successful because I was able to connect with juries. Juries are just 12 random people from the community – people you’ve never spoken to before and likely will never see again. Yet a trial lawyer needs to be able to connect with these people in a way that the jury trusts what you’re saying. I found little things like keeping things simple, making eye contact and being earnest go a long way in getting good results.
LD: Are there certain ways that you would describe your style as a trial lawyer or a negotiator? Can you identify ways in which these approaches have changed since joining Wachtell?
DA: The U.S. Attorney’s Office provided great training for the work I do today, as I use many of the same skills that I developed as a prosecutor to handle my current matters. Things such as mastering a complex set of facts, developing case strategies and effectively negotiating with adversaries. The biggest difference in my approach today is that I have to apply these skills within the broader context of a client’s business. So while the skills themselves are in many ways the same, I always try to be mindful of the bigger picture and the other issues a corporate client is necessarily facing.
LD: Given your accomplishments as a prosecutor, you would have had many options. Why did you choose Wachtell?
DA: Wachtell Lipton is a law firm with extremely high standards comprised of some of the smartest and best lawyers in the country. More than any other firm, Wachtell Lipton reminded me of the U.S. Attorney’s Office – each had about the same number of lawyers; each required lawyers to work in small teams; and each was filled with lawyers who prided themselves on working hard to achieve great results. Likewise, the collegial atmosphere and the team approach to working on cases at Wachtell Lipton mirrored what I had experienced at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. For all of those reasons, it was a natural transition for me.
LD: Since joining the firm, you’ve had some matters with a high public visibility, such as the NBA work with the Donald Sterling dispute, but many more that the public has never heard about. Is there a case or representation or client at Wachtell that has become a favorite, or especially meaningful, based on the challenges, the people or issues involved, or the result?
DA: Naturally, like my children, I love all my clients the same. But if I have to name one, the NBA is a special client. The people who work there – from former commissioner David Stern to current commissioner Adam Silver, to the general counsel Rick Buchanan and so many others – are just so smart. And the matters are challenging in ways that are different from almost all other matters, in part because of the added microscope of media scrutiny. While I’m never happy for the NBA to be in difficult situations where they need my help – and given how well they are run, there have not been many crises over the years – it has been satisfying to help the league navigate those situations, from crooked referee Tim Donaghy, to the racist owner Donald Sterling, to players who commit domestic violence.
Besides the NBA, I have been very fortunate to work closely over the years with many terrific in-house lawyers to solve difficult problems. It is satisfying not just to have had the opportunity to work with such talented internal lawyers to solve complex problems, but I’ve also become friends with many of them.
LD: As someone who has spent a lot of time in court, is there a book, movie or TV show about the justice system that you really like or feel gets it right?
DA: I wish I had a great answer to this question, but the reality is that given my work at Wachtell Lipton, I spend a good chunk of my day and night working for or thinking about my clients. So when I do get to decompress by watching TV or movies or reading books, I tend to do so with things that are a bit more “escapist” in nature. I’ve obviously seen all of the great law movies and watched some of the great legal TV shows, but it’s hard for me to say that any one of them really gets it right.
LD: How do you spend your time away from the office – whether for fun, family stuff or for community involvement?
DA: I have the good fortune of being married to a wonderfully talented woman, Mimi Rocah. Mimi is a former AUSA (we met at the U.S. Attorney’s Office) and, among other things, is now a legal analyst on MSNBC. So let me revise my prior answer – whenever Mimi is on, that TV show “gets it right.” Given mine and Mimi’s hectic schedules, when we’re not working, we try to make time for each other and to spend time with our daughter and son. Beyond that, I know it probably sounds somewhat cliché, but I love to play golf whenever I can.
About the author: John Ryan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a co-founder and the Editor-in-Chief of Lawdragon Inc., where he oversees all web and magazine content and provides regular coverage of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. When he’s not at GTMO, John is based in Brooklyn. He has covered complex legal issues for 20 years and has won multiple awards for his journalism. View our staff page.