The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Dana Seshens, Partner—Litigation
Ms. Seshens is a partner in Davis Polk’s Litigation department and co-head of Davis Polk’s Civil Litigation group. Her practice focuses on complex commercial litigation, securities class actions, and bankruptcy litigation. She has extensive experience representing corporate clients and professional firms with respect to a wide range of civil litigation and advisory matters. Law360 named her a 2014 Rising Star in Securities Litigation. Dana is one of Davis Polk’s two hiring partners. She received her B.A., magna cum laude, from Duke University and her J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center. Following law school, she clerked for the Honorable Carol Bagley Amon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Dana joined Davis Polk in 2003 and was elected partner in 2011.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My securities litigation practice focuses on representing clients facing civil litigation brought under federal or state securities laws. It ranges from representing clients who have been sued as issuers of a security to clients who have served as underwriters to public company clients who have been sued for statements made to shareholders in connection with their annual shareholder meeting. Typically, shareholders bring the suits and claim that our client has misrepresented or omitted material information in the relevant offering or other documents filed with the SEC.
I also represent clients in antitrust class actions, bankruptcy litigation, and other complex commercial litigation.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent a mix of corporate (issuer) and financial institution clients in securities cases. In cases where I represent corporate clients, they are typically the issuer of the relevant securities, which means they are the companies whose securities are being sold or whose SEC filings are at issue. When I represent financial institutions, they are often banks and affiliated financial institutions who participated in the particular securities transaction or transactions that are the subject of the suit.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I am fortunate to work on a broad range of securities litigation matters, from large securities class actions involving numerous parties to one-shareholder cases that reach beyond just securities issuances. Most recently, I have worked on several securities cases that were brought under the federal securities laws, including cases brought against Livent Corporation—a leading lithium producer—in state and federal court and cases brought against the underwriters of offerings for PG&E and Southern Consolidated Edison, both California utility companies. During the financial crisis, I spent considerable time defending Morgan Stanley in a number of securities cases related to residential mortgage-backed securities. Another major case I worked on over the past number of years was defending the owners of the New York Mets in connection with litigation arising out of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. Although that was a case that originated in the bankruptcy court, it had several securities law components.
How did you choose this practice area?
I have always been interested in the financial markets—how they work, what moves them, and the role shareholders play in them. A natural area for me to practice would have been in a transactional group, but I always wanted to be a litigator and was less interested in deal work. When I realized that there was a whole world of litigation that arose out of transactions in the financial markets, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Given the scope and diversity of my practice, there really is no typical day or week. Depending upon where in the litigation process my cases are at any given time, I spend time drafting and arguing motions, preparing witnesses, defending and taking depositions, and—of course—preparing for trial. I also always fold into my days and weeks strategy discussions with both co-defendants and clients, depending upon the nature of the case. As part of the work that I do, I also regularly meet with my case teams to discuss and strategize about issues in the case. My case teams are typically comprised of lawyers at all levels, from first years to senior associates, and our collaborative approach ensures that we offer the best solutions for our clients.
I also devote a good deal of time to firm initiatives outside my practice. I recently became one of the co-heads of our Civil Litigation practice group, and I have served as one of the firm’s two hiring partners for the past three years. Prior to my role as hiring partner, I served as co-chair of Davis Polk’s alumni committee.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Although nothing can compare to on-the-job training, there are certainly classes and experiences I would recommend for someone interested in securities litigation. Of course, taking courses in law school on securities regulation, corporations, and legal writing are key, but I also would recommend doing clinical work, moot court, or any kind of experience that lets you write and argue, irrespective of the subject matter. Getting “on-your-feet” experience is invaluable, even at the early stages of your career.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
In securities litigation, we often represent clients in their most critical, sensitive, and high-profile matters. There is a lot on the line in these cases—often billions of dollars and sometimes a company’s reputation or livelihood—and it is our job to get the best result for our client. Providing advice and guidance in these matters can be challenging, but it is usually that challenge that makes the practice as interesting and rewarding as it is.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I would say the interdisciplinary nature of the practice is one of the best parts. It marries securities transactions with complex litigation and gives rise to some of the most interesting and cutting-edge legal issues. None of the legal issues is ever simple, and I really enjoy having to dig into a complicated issue to try and break it down to its simplest form and then synthesize it with the rest of the case. It is always presenting new intellectual and strategic challenges.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
I wish I would have known that sometimes cases move slowly. Oftentimes, that may be beneficial for your client, in which case there is no reason to change anything about the pace of a litigation, but I also like to keep things moving and to keep pressure on our adversary. I have learned over the years when it is best to apply pressure and when it is best to sit back and let events unfold, but I had not appreciated before I started practicing that different litigations would move at different paces and that there would be times to go fast and times to go slow. You don’t really understand that dynamic until you experience it.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Davis Polk is unique in many ways. One thing that makes our securities litigation group unique is the consistent excellence of the practice that only gets stronger over time. I am so fortunate to practice with some of the leaders of the securities litigation bar, who take the time to mentor and teach both associates and partners. In part because Davis Polk is a lockstep firm (another unique characteristic), partners are always willing to take the time to help their fellow partners, as well as associates. It makes for a more collaborative work environment, which ultimately inures to the benefit of our clients.