FINRA Arbitration: What To Expect And Why You Should Choose Our Law Firm

If you are reading this article, you are probably an investor who has lost a substantial amount of money, Googled “Securities Arbitration Attorney,” clicked on a number of attorney websites, and maybe even spoken with a so-called “Securities Arbitration Lawyer” who told you after a five minute telephone call that “you have a great case;” “you need to sign a retainer agreement on a ‘contingency fee’ basis;” and “you need to act now because the statute of limitations is going to run.” You may want to ask yourself whether that attorney is as bad as the stockbrokers you were concerned about in the first place. Some attorneys will rush you to hire them before you speak to anyone else and not tell you about the clause in their contract that allows them to drop you as a client later on if they cannot get a quick settlement. They will solicit you without a real case evaluation and/or without any explanation of Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) proceedings. The scenario above is not the way for attorneys to properly serve clients, and it is not the way we do business at The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A. If you are planning on speaking or meeting with us or any other attorney, let us introduce you to the FINRA arbitration proceeding by giving you some information in advance to help you understand the different stages of FINRA arbitration, what you should expect from skilled and experienced FINRA securities arbitration lawyers, and what you should expect to personally do in order to have the best outcome: 1. CASE REVIEW Before we accept any case, our attorneys conduct a thorough interview of you to understand: the nature of your relationship with your broker; the level of your financial sophistication; the representations or promises made to you in connection with any investment recommendation; and your personal investment experience, investment objectives, and financial condition at the time of any recommendation or relevant time period. We will review your account records, including, but not limited to: account statements; confirmations; new account opening documents; contracts; correspondence; emails; presentations; and marketing materials that you may have received in connection with your accounts and the investments made therein, etc. Investors rarely contact our office without knowing whether they have suffered investment losses, but sometimes that occurs because the particular investor does not have all their records and/or is unsophisticated, inexperienced, and unable to decipher the account records they retained. If you retained your account statements and provide them, we should be able to at least estimate (under the different measures of damages) the amount you may be able to recover if you win your arbitration proceeding. If you do not have those records, we will help you retrieve them without any obligation so that all of us are fully aware of the amount we may possibly recover for you if we are successful in arbitration. In addition, we will spend the time necessary to get to know you and the facts of your dispute to have a good chance of success in proving your case. After all, it does not benefit either you or our law firm to file an arbitration claim that, months or years later, we discover has little chance of success. Ultimately, we want to know, and so should you, whether or not you have a claim with merit and are likely to recover damages if we go through a full arbitration proceeding. The fact is Attorney Pearce does not take cases unless he and his team believe you suffered an injustice and are likely to succeed at the final arbitration hearing. 2. THE STATEMENT OF CLAIM Many of these young and/or inexperienced attorneys with flashy websites and Google Ad Word advertisements (to get them to the top of the page) are more interested in marketing and signing up cases to settle early than they are in going all the way and winning your case at a final arbitration hearing for a just result. Oftentimes, they will insert your name in a form pleading, one that they use in every case, which states little more than if you (the “Claimant”) were an investor with brokerage firm ABC and stockbroker XYZ (the “Respondent(s)”) made misrepresentations, failed to disclose facts, made unsuitable recommendations, and violated laws 123, you are entitled to damages. They are unwilling and/or fail to take the time necessary to study the strengths and weaknesses of your case and write a detailed Statement of Claim (also referred to as the “Complaint”) with all of the relevant facts necessary to inform the arbitrators what happened and why you are entitled to recover your damages. That is not the way Attorney Pearce, with over 40 years of experience with investment disputes, files a Statement of Claim, the first and sometimes the only document that the arbitrators will read before the final arbitration hearing. 3. THE ANSWER After we file the Statement of Claim and it is served, the brokerage firm and/or stockbroker will have forty-five (45) days to file the Answer to your allegations. Oftentimes, the Respondent(s) will ask for an extension of time to file the Answer and we will give it to them provided no other deadline is extended, particularly the deadlines associated with the selection of arbitrators and scheduling of the initial pre-hearing conference, where all of the other important deadlines and dates of the final arbitration hearing are scheduled. Some clients have asked why would you give them extra time to file their best Answer? Well, we believe after 40 years of doing these FINRA arbitrations, that it is better to know the story they intend to tell the arbitrators early on and lock them in so we can come up with the best strategy and all the case law necessary to overcome their best defenses and win your arbitration. In other words, we would rather know about the defense early on than be surprised at the final hearing. Besides, Respondent(s) can always try to file...

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A Stockbroker’s Introduction to FINRA Examinations and Investigations

Brokers and financial advisors oftentimes do not understand what their responsibilities and obligations are and what may result from a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) examination or investigation. Many brokers do not even know the role that FINRA plays within the industry. This may be due to the fact that FINRA, a self-regulatory organization, is not a government entity and cannot sentence financial professionals to jail time for violation of industry rules and regulations. Nevertheless, all broker-dealers doing business with members of the public must register with FINRA. As registered members, broker-dealers, and the brokers working for them, have agreed to abide by industry rules and regulations, which include FINRA rules. In order to check for compliance with industry rules and regulations, FINRA conducts routine examinations or investigations of broker-dealers, which consist of inspections occurring once every one, two, or three years depending on the firm’s business model, its size, and its perceived risks. FINRA may also conduct an examination if it has reason to believe that a rule violation has occurred – an examination may be initiated based on a Form U-4 or U-5 disclosure, a customer complaint, an arbitration claim, information received from another regulator or law enforcement agency, or information received in the form of tip from a competing broker-dealer. The purpose of the examinations is to make sure that a firm is operating with sufficient capital, is properly supervising it employees and business operations, and has proper internal systems and controls in place. The examinations generally focus on unethical sales practice behavior such as conversion of funds, forgery, theft, selling away, undisclosed outside business activities, unauthorized trading, unsuitable recommendations, and misrepresentations or omissions. Consulting an attorney is highly recommended when facing a FINRA examination because all brokerage firm “Members” and stockbroker “Associate Members” of FINRA have agreed to be subject to its jurisdiction, rules, procedures, disciplinary proceedings and sanctions which could have serious consequences. These disciplinary proceedings are like trials in a courtroom but under FINRA’s lopsided rules and procedures to the stockbroker’s disadvantage. You need to be on guard – FINRA can make referrals to the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (“SEC”) for injunctions, fines and/or to federal and state prosecutors for criminal prosecution. THE EXAMINATION PROCESS Upon initiating an examination, FINRA examiners will usually send a written request for information to the broker-dealer as well as to the broker, which seeks basic information about a complaint or other disclosure. A request letter to the broker will often ask for a written response to the allegation, and a request letter to the firm will usually seek a written narrative of the complaint or other disclosure and the firm’s findings. A request letter to a firm may also include a request for relevant documents such as communications with customers and account records. Once FINRA has obtained such information, it will determine whether the issue is one over which FINRA has jurisdiction. FINRA will also determine whether there is a potential rule violation or if any other threshold has been met, which would allow it to continue to review the matter at issue. Examiners obtain the vast majority of information needed to conduct an investigation through written correspondence. Letters requesting information and documents and responses to specific questions sent to firms, brokers, and involved personnel are not uncommon. In many cases, FINRA will require the broker to respond to a specific question with a signed, written statement. Brokers tend to receive two to four or more of such letters. In addition, examiners may conduct telephone interviews with brokers, managers, compliance employees, and customers to obtain relevant information. Although these interviews are considered informal, brokers should proceed with caution because anything they say may be used against them. The majority of examinations that lead to a disciplinary action include an on-the-record interview (OTR), which requires the broker or other associated persons of a firm to meet with the regulators. OTRs are similar to depositions taken in civil proceedings as the witness is sworn to tell the truth, a court reporter is present to record the interview, and transcript of the interview is prepared. Seeing as brokers are permitted to have a lawyer appear at the OTRs with them, brokers are encouraged to obtain legal counsel to assist in preparing for an OTR, for the OTR proceeding itself, and for any future enforcement action. As soon as the examiners believe that they have gathered all the relevant information, documents, and other evidence, a report of the examination is prepared and submitted to a supervisor. The supervisor’s role is to review the report and the evidence and make a recommendation to close the file without action, to pursue some type of informal disciplinary action, or to pursue a formal disciplinary action – matters may also be resolved through a combination of the foregoing choices. FINRA JURISDICTION AND IMPORTANT RULES Brokers should know that FINRA does not have jurisdiction over individuals not affiliated with the securities industry. Therefore, since FINRA cannot ask for or force cooperation from non-affiliated individuals, many examinations are never fully completed if such cooperation is necessary to establish evidence of a violation. This does not mean that brokers should encourage customers to avoid or not cooperate with the authorities because this is a violation of FINRA rules itself, which can lead to sanctions, Brokers should also know that they themselves are not obligated to respond to FINRA requests for information, but this decision may come with a significant price, such as a permanent ban from the industry. Still, FINRA makes use of Rule 8210, which serves as subpoena for FINRA examinations. Rule 8210 requires broker-dealers, registered representatives, and any other individuals subject to FINRA’s jurisdiction to cooperate in an examination and provide written, electronic, and oral information when requested. If a broker chooses not to respond, he or she may be barred from association from any FINRA member firm in any capacity in addition to other sanctions. This consequence may seem contrary to one’s 5th Amendment right...

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