This is a volunteer program for lawyers. If you are concerned about the world we live in and would like to make a difference, it is a phenomenal way to leverage your legal skills. Open to lawyers and law students, the Barristers Program is an educational opportunity as well as a volunteer initiative. You don’t need expertise in corporate law. In fact, we prefer that you not have it. The program is just in its formative stages, so this is an opportunity to be a founding volunteer. Here is some background.
In the struggle to check corporate mismanagement and abuses, the most important avenues for relief—federal and state courts—are effectively denied to investors. The cost of litigation is prohibitive. That is true for individual investors, but it is also true for large institutional investors. Most institutional investors have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of their beneficiaries. It is difficult for them to justify spending thousands of dollars in legal fees challenging a single corporation when they could just as easily—and less expensively—sell the stock. Selling the stock is called the “Wall Street walk”. A more apt name would be “passing the buck” because nothing ever gets resolved. Corporate abuses for one generation are allowed to fester, becoming accepted practice for the next. This is how the crisis of corporate governance came about. It has been a crisis for decades now.
The Barristers Program is a solution. If you are a lawyer or law student, it is an opportunity to make a difference in your world. Here is the vision:
Think of America as a great melting pot, and it is people like Matthew who come to mind. He was born in Iran, but his earliest memories are of growing up in Texas and Scotland. He worked in college as an English tutor and remembers especially the dedication of international students.
Later, Matthew began coaching youth basketball and knows how important it is for children to be around dedicated and honest individuals: Children naturally look up to most adult figures. As a result, they pattern their behavior on the adults around them.
Matthew runs his own law firm, which handles general litigation and employment law for plaintiffs and small businesses. In 2010, he became a founding member of the USPX Barristers Program, volunteering with both the Apache vs. Chevedden lawsuit and our report on disenfranchisement at Chevron’s annual meeting.
Describing himself as philosophically Jeffersonian, Matthew is passionate about economics. It is not the theories or the personalities that draw him. It is the issues: What concerns me now is that so many people in the U.S. seem to have lost their capacity for long term planning, delayed gratification, and sacrifice for future generations. At the end of the day, capitalistic systems rely on a fragile balance of supply and demand; thus, they only work if most people are honest, reasonable, and prudent, and they work best when economic transactions are transparent. Matthew attends many corporate annual meetings each year, and he gives blow-by-blow accounts in his blog Quiet Highway: Saga of a Gentleman (http://willworkforjustice.blogspot.com/). The blog is picked up by Seeking Alpha and is well worth a visit.
Matthew Rafat lives in San Jose, California. He can be reached at [email protected]
Books That Have Most Influenced Matthew: Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929). After reading this World War I book, I became anti-war. I’ve been that way ever since. John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me (1961) displayed America’s racist past from a poignant, unique perspective. Griffin, a white man who darkened his skin so he could pass for a black man, showed the daily slights of Jim Crow’s South from a deeply personal voice. Burton Malkiel’s A Random Walk Down Wall Street (1973). I didn’t necessarily agree with Professor Malkiel’s conclusions, but I appreciated his rationale. Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom packs so much wisdom in such concise language, I felt like my IQ rose 50 points after just four hours of reading. Friedman is a polarizing figure, but he also writes “The existence of a free market does not of course eliminate the need for government. On the contrary, government is essential both as a forum for determining the ‘rules of the game’ and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on.” Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985). It’s troubling to see everything Mr. Postman predicted coming true, and yet, no one seems to care.
There are plenty of corporate lawyers in America. Almost all represent entrenched boards or corporate managers. The reason is simple: that is where the money is. Boards and management can draw without limit on corporate assets to fund litigation. Corporate lawyers pretty much have to work for corporate interests if they want to make a living.
Because there is no money to be made representing investors, we need volunteer lawyers. Approaching law firms to do pro bono work is only viable in a handful of unique situations. We can’t ask corporate lawyers to volunteer. They would fear alienating corporate clients, and we can’t realistically ask them to give away for free the legal expertise from which they derive a living.
Our plan is to attract lawyers who derive their living practicing in some field other than corporate law. They will volunteer a few hours a week, first learning some corporate law, and then representing investors’ interests. Volunteer lawyers will form a community. More experienced members will help those just getting started.
If you have been looking for a quality volunteer opportunity that utilizes your skills, this may be it. Society’s need is enormous. This will be a challenging, educational and fun experience. Enquire about the program today