Maya Saxena knows how to beat the odds. She formed the securities litigation firm Saxena White in 2006 with partner Joseph White, with an eye towards doing things differently. Together they went head-to-head against established and well-resourced securities defense firms, bringing in major wins for institutional investors. To date Saxena has recovered nearly $1 billion in shareholder actions, setting important precedents and sharpening the standards for corporate responsibility along the way.
Lawdragon: As co-founder of Saxena White, will you describe for our readers the mix of work you do at the firm?
Maya Saxena: The mix of work I do is an even split between litigation and marketing/client service. We work with institutional investors, so I often speak about securities litigation and corporate governance cases or provide educational seminars to our clients. It is a good mix of work since it enables me to meet and interact a great deal with our clients.
LD: How did you first become interested in securities law?
MS: I started my career as an Assistant Attorney General in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I represented the State of Florida in civil proceedings, but most of my work was on the appellate level, representing the State’s position in criminal cases. I loved working for the government and the opportunities I had to be in court almost every day, and to handle significant cases on my own as a very young lawyer. However, I had a ton of student loans as a young lawyer and had to eventually make the transition to private practice. I knew very little about the field of securities class action litigation since it is a very specialized niche field, but I saw a job posting for a junior level associate at the local office of a New York based firm, and that was my entry into securities fraud litigation. The first case I worked on as a young associate was a case against Sunbeam Corporation for a massive accounting fraud, which was fascinating to me because the CEO was a very over the top character who would paint his face with warpaint and berate his employees to meet financial goals. Each new case is interesting to me, since each company we sue for committing fraud has a different corporate culture and background, and it is fascinating to delve into each one.
LD: Will you tell us a bit about the founding and development of Saxena White?
MS: My partner Joseph White and I started the firm in 2006. We left a much larger plaintiffs’ firm and opened the doors with only four attorneys, and a massive case load of large securities cases. We were all together in one room in cheap space with our files in plastic bins going against the biggest defense firms in the country. We were later told by a defense firm that their strategy was to “hold our heads under water” because they did not think we had the resources or ability to keep going. Years later, we have offices in New York, Florida and California with some of the most talented professionals in the field.
LD: How has your securities practice changed since the early part of your career?
MS: The practice in my field has changed significantly since I started. In 1995, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act was made into law, which altered the way that these cases are handled. The PSLRA expressly encourages institutional investors to act as lead plaintiffs and take charge of securities cases. Because of this transition, lawyers in our practice had to start marketing themselves to public and private institutions who would be well positioned to take control of these matters. When I started at my old firm, the plaintiffs’ securities bar was controlled by a small cadre of somewhat colorful characters. This small group of men would determine who would be in control of what case, and had very forceful personalities. They reminded me of the cast of characters in John Grisham’s book King of Tort. Since then, the leadership of the firms has changed, and my counterparts tend to be less dramatic and more balanced.
LD: What would you say is unique or notable about Saxena White?
MS: What I tell potential clients about our firm is that we are the only federally certified, woman-owned firm representing institutional investors in the securities bar. I think this is really significant because the area tends to be dominated by male attorneys. Diversity is a huge priority for us, and I think having successful women and minority attorneys reflects the changing and increasing diversity of the judges we are regularly appearing in front of.
LD: Can you walk us through a recent matter that you’ve handled?
MS: One of the recent cases I worked on was a securities fraud case against a Florida based timber company called Rayonier. We called the case the “Lorax case” in the office. The company executives for years claimed that they utilized “sustainable” forestry practices. In fact, in order to meet quarterly Wall Street estimates, they cut down such an excess of trees, that it would take them nearly half a century to regrow their inventory. The case had multiple oral arguments, and when I was at home going over my presentation my then 9 year old daughter asked me what I was working on and I explained the case to her. She said “mom, you’re just like the Lorax” which is a fictional Dr. Seuss character who protected trees. The case was important not only in securing a victory and settlement for the class of shareholders who purchased the stock and were defrauded, but it was the first time that a federal court in a securities case had the opportunity to decide whether the term “sustainable” was meaningful. In finding that terms like “sustainable” and “responsible” were actionable, corporations must now be truthful when reporting about their environmental stewardship and related practices.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?
MS: One of the things that I have learned from my years of practice and watching attorneys I admire is that you cannot adopt someone else’s style as your own. I do not have an overly aggressive, confrontational style. I was also never a “natural” at argument, but I have learned that my confidence comes from preparation. I have won cases where I knew a nuance or minor fact about a case cited by my opponent or a factual distinction that turned the course of the hearing. I now have come to enjoy the challenges of being in court and presenting argument, but that was a process that took many years.
LD: Do you have any projects or pursuits outside of the law?
MS: My daughter is an avid equestrian and through her riding I saw a great deal of animals that were abandoned or mistreated. Several years ago, we started a non profit organization named “Forget Me Not Farm Home for Peculiar Animals.” We have rescued a hog (from a sausage factory), donkeys, goats, sheep and cows. One of the things we are working on is setting up a program for elementary age children that teaches them empathy through working with animals.