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Who’s Yo Daddy? — For Securities Bar, Stanley Sporkin

March 25, 2016, 10:36 PM

In the 1990 movie Kindergarten Cop, Arnold Schwarzenegger famously asked,Who is your daddy, and what does he do?

For a tight-knit cadre of prominent securities lawyers, a recent article suggests, the answer to that question is clear: former federal judge Stanley Sporkin.

“Colleagues in the securities bar have observed the phenomenon of ‘Sporkin’s kids’ referring to the many influential lawyers who worked under Stanley Sporkin during his long and distinguished tenure at the Securities and Exchange Commission,” William Henderson, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, wrote in a blog posted on The Legal White Board on Friday.

Sporkin, in addition to his role as a former federal judge in Washington, D.C., also served as general counsel to the Central Intelligence Agency and as director of the Division of Enforcement for the SEC in the 1980’s. He currently operates a solo practice advising corporate boards, general counsels and private law firms, according to his website.

Henderson made reference to Sporkin in an article about mentoring, coaching and diversity in the legal profession, which can be read at length here .

He also pointed to New York City business lawyer Walter Carter as another prime example modern law firm leaders can learn from. Walter oversaw Paul Cravath, who worked for Carter as a junior lawyer and later became the name partner of Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

[caption id="attachment_9571" align="alignleft” width="217"][Image “Stanley Sporkin, a retired federal judge who in teh 1970s led the SEC unit that investigates corporate fraud, speaks during a conference sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Mar. 3, 2010. The Roosevelt Institute will release an outline for reform of the financial system in conjunction with today’s meeting. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg ***Local Caption*** Stanley Sporkin” (src=]Stanley Sporkin, a retired federal judge who in the 1970s led the SEC unit that investigates corporate fraud, speaks during a conference sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Mar. 3, 2010. Photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg[/caption]

As for Sporkin, Henderson observed that “many of Sporkin’s SEC protégés lacked the pedigree of an elite law school, yet they went on to become some of the most sought after and influential securities litigation lawyers of their generation.”

Henderson went through a list of three examples: Edward Herlihy, of Wachtell Lipton (who graduated from George Washington Law School), William McLucas of WilmerHale (who graduated from Temple Law), and Ralph Ferrara of Proskauer Rose (who graduated from Cincinnati Law).

What can be learned from Sporkin’s mentorship?

Henderson spoke with the man himself to gain some insight.

He commented that his philosophy was to look for intelligent young lawyers who would approach their jobs “with enthusiasm.” In Sporkin’s view, the law school attended was a poor proxy for these intangibles (Sporkin himself attended Yale). Further, according to Sporkin, it was critical for the young lawyer’s values to be aligned with the mission of the agency. Otherwise, the lawyer would not be able to keep up with the demands of working in his office.

But Sporkin mentioned that the times were on his side: In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, he said there was a lack of bureaucracy, which allowed him to hire “so much raw talent according to his own criteria,” Henderson wrote.

Sporkin said that he recalled that a young Ralph Ferrara pleaded with Sporkin for an opportunity to work at the SEC. While Sporkin lacked the budget to hire Ferrera, the young lawyer worked for free until a formal staff position became open.

“Hamer Budge (the former chair of the SEC) had an edict that the SEC couldn’t fill any positions with anyone born east of the Mississippi River, so they couldn’t hire me,” Ferrara recalled in an interview with Big Law Business.

To work around that obstacle, Ferrara said Sporkin created a “student observer program” under which he could start working at the SEC for academic credit, and that the program still exists today.

Henderson said that he felt law firms undervalue the importance of coaching and mentoring, especially today, when modern law firms emphasize the production of revenue.

“I have studied lawyer development for over a decade,” Henderson wrote. “I think these partners are trading dollars for pennies.”

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