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Investor Advocacy Clinic at Georgia State Law Seeks Economic Justice for Retirees

Nicole G. Iannarone, assistant clinical professor, Georgia State University College of Law and director of the Investor Advocacy Clinic

Nicole G. Iannarone, assistant clinical professor, Georgia State University College of Law and director of the Investor Advocacy Clinic

By Nicole G. Iannarone

Most Americans are responsible for funding their own retirements. Many households with individuals nearing retirement age have no retirement savings, and those few that do have built an average nest egg of about $20,000.

Through decades of hard work and saving, many entrust their savings to a stockbroker to obtain professional help and guidance. However, if something goes wrong in their securities account, even if it means their entire life savings are lost, many Americans have few places to turn. If an investor loses up to $100,000 in a brokerage account, it is nearly impossible to find a lawyer willing to take on a lawsuit against the stockbroker or brokerage.

In 2013, the Georgia State University College of Law’s Investor Advocacy Clinic (IAC) opened to fill the retirement savings justice gap. Under faculty supervision, law students provide free legal advice to investors with claims under $100,000 to help them obtain economic justice.

Though the financial services industry classifies these claims as small, clinic interns understand how important recovering these losses are to their clients’ retirement, health and well-being. During its five-year history, the Investor Advocacy Clinic has worked with more than 75 regular investors, providing almost $1 million worth of free legal services.

Students represent clients in all aspects of their claims against their stockbrokers, which must be arbitrated before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Our clients are every day, hardworking people: hairdressers, welders, school teachers and retirees. They share one common problem: they trusted a broker to help them achieve their financial goals and that trust was violated.

After an investor contacts us, interns determine whether a claim exists. In the many cases where an investor has no legal claim, we explain what happened. When there is a claim, students work with the investor to try and solve it.

The clinic may negotiate to resolve the matter informally, or when necessary, file for arbitration through FINRA. Students work with the investor every step of the way, whether the claim is resolved through negotiation or if it is necessary to go to a final hearing.

Clinic students also give regular investors a voice. An active participant in the policy arena, student lawyers monitor FINRA and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule filings and evaluate them from the standpoint of regular Americans, commenting on how the rule change would affect regular investors and advocating changes that might be made to better protect them. In October, intern Qudsia Shafiq (J.D. ’18) joined me in describing the regular investor experience to the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee during invited testimony.

The clinic also has a unique partnership with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Securities Division where interns work with division attorneys to investigate consumer complaints. Students interview witnesses, review documents and determine whether complaints constitute unregistered securities offerings upon which further action is required to protect Georgia consumers.

Because IAC interns hope that no investor will ever need a lawyer, they have created innovative investor education efforts. From crossword puzzles to “investment fairy tales” and blog posts unpacking complicated investing concepts, IAC students use their creativity to empower consumers to take control. Learn more at http://investoradvocacyclinic.wordpress.com/.

The clinic is a resource for all Georgians who cannot find a lawyer because of the size of their investment losses. Learn more here or contact the clinic at 404-413-9261 to see if the IAC can assist you.

Nicole G. Iannarone is an assistant clinical professor at the Georgia State University College of Law. In addition to teaching Civil Procedure, Professional Responsibility and a Business Arbitration Practicum, she is the director of the Investor Advocacy Clinic. Iannarone obtained her J.D. from Yale Law School and is a summa cum laude graduate of Brenau Women’s College. She is active in the Atlanta legal community, serving as vice president/president elect of the Atlanta Bar Association and chair of the State Bar of Georgia’s Professionalism Committee.

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