Plaintiff securities heavyweight Pomerantz launched a new office in London this past October. The office is co-headed by Jennifer Pafiti and Dr. Daniel Summerfield. Dr. Summerfield joins the firm after two decades with the Universities Superannuation Scheme, or USS – the largest private pension fund in the UK. He most recently served as head of their responsible investment team. Pomerantz and USS have a long relationship, as USS was the lead plaintiff in the blockbuster securities case that Pomerantz led against Brazilian oil giant, Petrobras.
Pafiti, a partner and the longtime Head of Client Services at Pomerantz, splits her time on both sides of the pond, working as a U.S. attorney and UK solicitor. She was a key member of the team in the Petrobras litigation and engaged with USS about taking a leadership role in the case. “Sometimes a case comes a long where the conduct is so egregious, and the losses are so large, that you might want to drive the bus rather than simply be a passenger,” says Pafiti. “That was the case for USS with Petrobras.” The case settled for a historic $3B.
We caught up with Pafiti to learn about the London office opening, her work with Dr. Summerfield, and their upcoming corporate governance roundtable in Rome this fall, featuring Sir Tony Blair as a guest speaker.
Lawdragon: Congratulations on opening the new London office! Can you tell us why this was the right time for you to set up shop there?
Jennifer Pafiti: Things are far more global than they were even five or six years ago. Something that really sets us apart from our competitors is our commitment to providing monitoring services and securities litigation services to our clients wherever they're based. We would open an office in every jurisdiction where we have clients if we could! But we have a lot of UK-based pension funds and asset managers that we currently service. The London office is a natural extension for our firm. For us, it was really about finding the right person to be in that office on a day-to-day basis.
LD: How did you know Dr. Summerfield was the right person?
JP: He is fantastic. I've known Daniel for 12 years; I met him through his work at USS. He’s very engaged, very charismatic, and he has a long history in the ESG, responsible investment world, so it was natural to keep the discussion flowing. When there was talk that he wanted to do something new, I was very excited about the possibility that he would join our team. He's been a fantastic asset, even only three or four months in.
LD: How about you, are you in London fulltime now?
JP: I’m not anywhere fulltime! I’m co-managing the London office but I am based on Los Angeles and I’m still traveling a lot. I’m in London every month. Daniel is running the day-to-day operations, and I’ll fly in to give presentations to boards or answer specific questions when they want to hear from the lawyer that’s going to run something.
LD: So you’re back to traveling a lot?
JP: Yes. Less than I was pre-Covid, probably 80 percent, but it’s mostly ramped back up. During Covid, we Zoomed, we met through Teams, we did what we could. We have strong relationships with all our clients, so we had that trust element that we were able to shift to the digital realm when we had to. We had no redundancies or layoffs, since our work didn’t change, just how we went about doing it was altered slightly. But there is no real substitute for being in-person. For those clients that want to see us in-person again, we show up. Some of them we hadn’t seen in person for two years! Depending on everybody’s comfort levels, which are still shifting, we will always accommodate.
Aside from client meetings and board meetings, we do a lot of educational conferences, hosting as well as speaking. We have our big annual conference coming up in Rome in October.
Things are far more global than they were even five or six years ago.... The London office is a natural extension for our firm.
LD: Tell me about the Rome conference. It's another corporate governance roundtable?
JP: Yes, we try and do one of these conferences every couple of years. Last June we had our conference with President Bill Clinton. About 120 clients and prospective clients came. We heard how President Clinton ran his team and what he learned from his time in office. It was an amazing conference in part because he was an amazing speaker and captured the audience. We had some great additional speakers as well, experts in the field of corporate governance and asset managing. For many people, it was the first in-person conference they'd done in two, three years. So there was such a buzz about it. As soon as we finished that conference, everybody wanted to know, "When's the next one?" We wouldn't normally do them so close together, but there was a demand for it.
This will be our first European conference, in Rome, and we’re very excited to have the former British Prime Minister, Sir Tony Blair, as our special guest speaker this time.
Having it in Europe is a natural extension of our commitment to being in that region and recently opening the London office. We also have offices in Paris and Tel Aviv, so Rome seems like a good center point to showcase not only the firm but also the cases that we're working on.
The roundtables are always an opportunity for corporate governance professionals to share issues and best practices, and to discuss concerns that affect the value of the funds that they ultimately represent. Speakers are typically general counsel or trustees, CEOs, CIOs of these very large pension funds and asset managers. They come from around the globe to talk about these topics with their peers.
LD: The international aspect has got to be beneficial, since so many investors are operating globally but their protections differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
JP: Yes, and investors are far better protected in the U.S. than they are anywhere else in the world, because of our robust securities laws. Wherever a company is located, the same kind of shenanigans are going on with regards to concealing information from investors or misrepresenting the truth. When it's revealed, the value of someone's investment drops. Those fraudulent statements or omissions of material facts go on everywhere in Europe, in the Middle East, in China, the U.S. The difference is that here in the U.S., there is a far more robust and comprehensive recovery scheme through the courts, and some very robust laws that protect investors. Over the years, the position that the U.S. has taken through the different administrations is really that the SEC is there, but it is the firms such as Pomerantz that are doing the auxiliary work to really punish the wrongdoers.
The benefit of being in the U.S. and having that kind of system is it's far easier to be a passive member of a class whereas in, for example, the UK, you don't benefit from the same protections. You have to register to participate, you have to be on the record. There's no class action system. That is something that they're trying to develop, a group litigation system. But in the meantime, when it comes to enforcement, there's nothing quite like the U.S. set up, not only with governmental bodies like the SEC, but also with the plaintiffs’ bar.
LD: Does the firm have any immediate plans to open other offices?
JP: Well, we are always looking at where we need to expand. We are absolutely a growing practice, and I can imagine in the next few years we will make moves to open other offices to continue serving our clients.