The Talent

April 12, 2010 5:00 AM

Ex-FINRA Enforcement Chief Joins Bingham McCutchen

Posted by Brian Baxter


Update 1, April 12, 2010, 11 a.m.

Susan Merrill, who spent a total of six years as head of enforcement for the New York Stock Exchange regulatory arm and the entity that succeeded it, will join Bingham McCutchen's broker-dealer group in New York this week.

Merrill, 53, stepped down last month as chief of enforcement at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a private corporation that regulates brokerage firms and trading markets. She spent three years at the New York Stock Exchange prior to joining FINRA in 2007 when the agency was created by the merger between NYSE's regulatory group and the National Association of Securities Dealers. (The SEC approved the merger between the NASD and NYSE's regulation group in July 2007.)

Merrill says she made the decision to leave FINRA in February, and that a number of factors led her to choose Bingham.

"It was really a combination of the strengths of their securities enforcement practice along with the drive and the vision that I saw they had to grow the practice and take it to the next level," she says. "Over the last ten years and where they are today, I just found [Bingham] to be the most exciting place for me to come and practice."

Bingham has recently represented Morgan Stanley in obtaining regulatory approvals for the launch of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, the country's largest retail broker-dealer. Bingham has also advised Charles Schwab, Oppenheimer, Fidelity, and Wells Fargo Investments on major state, SEC, and FINRA investigations into auction-rate securities.

Last year the firm hired former SEC chairman Christopher Cox, a onetime lawyer at Latham & Watkins, to join its Southern California office. Merrill actually doesn't know Cox personally--she says they've met only once or twice casually. The former SEC chairman practices in Bingham's corporate and consulting groups.

Instead, Merrill says Bingham's financial services cochair Neal Sullivan was a primary driver behind her move to the firm, along with partner Herbert Janick III, a former senior member of the SEC's enforcement division and general counsel of UBS Financial Services, both of whom she's worked with previously in several capacities.

Merrill looks back fondly on her tenure at the NYSE and FINRA, despite criticisms levied against both organizations--as well as against the SEC--for a failure to uncover frauds and abuses at broker-dealers, such as the massive Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff.

"It was a time of great change at [the NYSE] and I really enjoyed going there and remaking that department," Merrill says. "And when we had the combination with the NASD, to be offered the head of enforcement position was a tremendous opportunity. It was a great personal and professional experience, going through the merger between two enforcement programs."

Merrill starts at Bingham on April 15. Her move comes at a good time for the firm. According to the latest Am Law 100 financial data, Bingham saw revenues rise 12 percent to $860 million in 2009, while profits per partner increased 2 percent to nearly $1.45 million. Last summer Bingham acquired McKee Nelson, creating a combined firm of over 1,000 lawyers.

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