Photo by Laura Barisonzi.
Brenda Szydlo, a partner at Pomerantz, leads some of the firm’s most high-profile cases. She played a leading role in the precedent-setting securities class action against Brazilian oil giant Petrobras that resulted in a historic $3B settlement, and has won significant recoveries for investors in other class actions and opt-out securities cases. She has extensive experience on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants in complex civil litigation, notably in the pharmaceutical and accounting realms.
Ms. Szydlo is a member of the Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Financial Lawyers.
Lawdragon: What led you to a career in law?
Brenda Szydlo: I knew from age 10 that I wanted to be an attorney. I always followed that path, making choices that would lead me there.
LD: That's a big decision for a child. To what do you attribute your motivation and steadfastness?
BS: My parents were Holocaust survivors. They themselves were mere children during the war, experiencing a level of pain and loss and uprootedness that no child should be made to bear. As a first-generation American, I had an early and keen awareness of injustice in the world; the law seemed to offer a way to right wrongs.
LD: Now that you have been practicing for some time, do you still see the law that way?
BS: (Laughs). Yes, I do, especially so since I made the move from defense to the plaintiffs’ side of the V.
LD: Tell me about that transition.
BS: I have always been interested in the financial markets. In my first job after graduating law school, I was assigned to securities litigation cases at a respected defense firm. I was immediately attracted to this very complex area of law, which is continually evolving. Crafting a strategy in securities litigation is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, trying different ways until they click. I am a natural problem solver, so the work was highly satisfying to me. After some years, I received an appealing offer from a plaintiffs’-side securities firm and made the move. Subsequently, I moved to Pomerantz, which has been the best move of all by far.
LD: What are the key challenges of representing plaintiffs in securities litigation?
BS: Having represented both defendants and plaintiffs in securities litigation, I find the plaintiffs’ side to be more challenging. Investors face uphill battles in attempting to recover their losses. There are far too many pleading hurdles that plaintiffs must clear in order survive motions to dismiss. Some plaintiffs-side securities litigators would even argue that the caselaw is stacked against plaintiffs in certain jurisdictions. It is truly rewarding to advocate for the underdog and win. Personally, I have found that my experience on the defense side in these cases gives me an edge in gauging what defendants’ strategies will be, and in responding to those strategies. Firmwide, we have been highly successful at Pomerantz in securing large financial recoveries for investors and securing precedential decisions that have shaped the law in their favor.
LD: Of all the work that you have done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?
I found our use of jury focus groups, which enabled our trial team to gain insight into jury reasoning and analysis, to be fascinating.
BS: I am proud to have played a leading role in the firm’s securities class action case against Brazil’s largest oil company, Petrobras, arising from a multi-billion-dollar, decades-long kickback and bribery scheme, in which Pomerantz, as sole lead counsel, achieved a historic $3B settlement in 2018. The settlement set records as the largest securities class action settlement in the last decade and the fifth-largest securities class action settlement ever achieved in the United States. This was a hard-fought legal battle that consumed most of my professional time from 2016, when I started working at the firm, until the settlement in 2018. I enjoyed taking fact and expert depositions and appreciated the many writing opportunities. I found our use of jury focus groups, which enabled our trial team to gain insight into jury reasoning and analysis, to be fascinating.
LD: In law school, was there a particular course, professor or experience that was particularly memorable or important regarding the practice that you chose?
BS: My passion for litigation began with a spark from my civil procedure professor. He had all the attributes of a good law professor, such as intelligence, humor, and the ability to explain legal concepts clearly and concisely, to name a few. But it was not the content of the course that inspired me. It was his passion for the law.
LD: What advice do you have now for a current law student?
BS: Your first year of law school is often the most difficult and important one. Give it your all!
LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?
BS: A now retired senior partner at another firm was a mentor to me for many years. We worked together on high-profile cases on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants. I learned a great deal from him and was always able to turn to him for guidance. We remain friends to this day. I believe that experienced attorneys need to make themselves available to junior attorneys to share their knowledge.
I make a point of paying it forward. I try to mentor associates in the early stages of their careers, devoting time to hone their skills and expand their knowledge, and giving them hands-on opportunities to learn “in action.”
LD: Is there a matter or client in your career that stands out as particularly memorable?
BS: Many years ago, I defended a major accounting firm in two high-profile cases involving securities fraud and other wrongdoing with respect to companies controlled by automobile magnate John DeLorean. Depositions were obtained from secretaries and ministers of state, including former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, along with unprecedented discovery of documents from the British government, including secret cabinet minutes.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?
BS: Assertive, effective, organized, honest and compassionate.
LD: There are many high-quality firms out there. What do you try to "sell" about Pomerantz to potential recruits? How is it unique?
BS: There are many smart attorneys working at other firms. After having worked with some of them in different capacities – as colleagues, co-counsel, adversaries – I can honestly say that Pomerantz is unique in creating a workplace culture that sets the highest level of intelligence, expertise and professionalism within a supportive and collegial environment.
Our associates are drawn to the opportunity to participate in high-profile securities class actions. If you work hard and demonstrate an eagerness to learn new skills in a supportive law environment, you will be offered increasing responsibility early on in your career at Pomerantz. That responsibility is yours for the taking.