IAC Welcomes Eric Peters

Eric Peters joined the Investor Advocacy Clinic “to be as practice-ready as possible when I graduate law school.”  A graduate of the University of Georgia with a double major in finance and real estate, Peters plans to “use the financial and legal knowledge I gained from both my undergraduate and GSU Law experiences to find his passion in the law.

According to Peters, the Investor Advocacy Clinic

“provides a valuable, cost-free alternative to investors who have been wronged but cannot afford adequate legal representation.  The clinic also serves to help investors navigate their way through financial information by creating educational material.  Knowledge is half the battle when seeing to prevent investor harm, and education is a great way to further develop their financial literacy.”

Alumni, Judges Facilitate Professionalism Sessions During Orientation

Each fall, the State Bar of Georgia’s Professionalism Committee and the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism, host a professionalism orientation for incoming students at all six law schools in Georgia to discuss the personally and professionally challenging nature of professionalism issues, which they may face in school and as practicing attorneys. Nicole G. Iannarone, assistant clinical professor and chair of the Professionalism Committee, helped organize this year’s programs including the one at Georgia State Law.

“We are hoping to foster even greater collaboration between the bar and the law schools, to ensure we underscore the professionalism ideals they hope to foster in their students,” Iannarone said.

For Georgia State Law’s program, professors and deans recruited 17 judges and 36 members of the bar, many of which are Georgia State Law alumni, to facilitate interactive discussions based on hypothetical situations and cases that have occurred in law schools or in the practice of law. Continue reading

Georgia State and Harvard Tax Clinics Team Up on Amicus Brief

As part of its mission, the Philip C. Cook Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic represents low-income taxpayers in controversies with the Internal Revenue Service with the goal of maximizing financial well-being and protecting taxpayer rights.

This summer, the Philip C. Cook Low-Income Tax Clinic Director, Ted Afield, along with two student attorneys, Misty Gann and Nikki Bhakhri worked with the Harvard Federal Tax Clinic, to co-author an Amicus Brief filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The brief described to the court how low-income taxpayers, seeking to contest certain penalties, suffer when they are required to pay the penalties in-full before being allowed a court hearing.  The Georgia State Law and Harvard Law low-income tax clinics sought to illustrate to the court that the statute, which resulted in the full payment rule, was created for a category of penalties covered in very isolated circumstances.  The list of penalties has since been expanded exponentially by the Internal Revenue Service and this expansion reaches a greater number of taxpayers, many of which Congress did not intend to be affected by the full-payment rule. In practice, low-income taxpayers are disadvantaged because they are unable to pay in full, thus barred from judicial review. The immunity of review the Internal Revenue Service is afforded in these instances can have devastating effects on low-income taxpayers.

Fall 2017 IAC Interns Begin Work

The Investor Advocacy Clinic is back for another academic year.  Our fall 2017 student interns began their work on August 11, 2017 with a full day orientation and boot camp.  Two of our interns are returning from prior semesters, Robert Noens and Qudsia Shafiq.  Lynn McKeel, Eric Peters, Alisa Radut, and Abigail Warren join the clinic for their first semester.

IAC students learned about the clinic and its work with regular, retail investors during the orientation.  They developed relationships with their colleagues in the Tax Clinic and joined together to discuss best practices in client interviewing.  With multiple active matters to kick off the semester, from investigating whether a claim exists to preparing interactive investor education, the interns are ready to jump in head first to the clinic’s work.

Investor Advocacy Clinic, Secretary of State Office Develop Valuable Resources About Robo-Advisers

Through its partnership with the Securities Division of the Office of the Secretary of State, Georgia State Law’s Investor Advocacy Clinic (IAC) enhanced investor education with students tackling a cutting-edge technology issue that impacts the security industry – robo-advisers – and creating a resource library.

The securities division partnered with the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) to learn more about these tools, and the clinic played a critical role in evaluating the pros and cons of robo-advising. Under the direction of Nicole G. Iannarone, assistant clinical professor and clinic director, students compiled and analyzed information relating to robo-advisers, which are investment management programs that select and manage individual portfolios.

Robo-advisers, previously called “internet advisers,” have changed significantly since they were introduced approximately 15 years ago. The products have gained in popularity in recent years, but there is relatively little educational and impartial information available. The algorithm-driven digital tools provide investment advisory services to consumers, often without any human interaction.

“Several legal questions arise as potential investors, financial advisers and regulators learn how to navigate this shift in financial investing through robo-advisers. Since the human interaction is diminished, the duties held by the investor and adviser are not as clear,” said Noula Zaharis, director of the Securities & Charities Division. “Legal questions, specifically about fiduciary duty, will continue to arise as robo-advisers become more prevalent.”

Qudsia Shafiq (J.D. ’18) and Majda Muhic (J.D. ’17) worked with the securities division and handled investigatory matters.

“Through general research, Majda and I determined the different business models under which robo-advisers operate and how they function within the financial industry,” Shafiq said. “We also identified key players and looked for potentially problematic regulatory issues and any arguments proposing robo-advisers as fulfilling – or failing to fulfill – their fiduciary duty to their clients.”

Based on their research findings, Shafiq and Muhic co-wrote a series of 11 articles for the IAC blog to help consumers understand what robo-advisers are, explain the fiduciary duty robo-advisers owe their clients and highlight the benefits, downfalls and key considerations for using this type of financial product.

Continue reading

Investor Alert: Advance Fee Fraud

By Geoff Hafer, Spring 2017 Student Intern

The SEC receives thousands of complaints every year describing a scam known as “advance fee fraud.”  An investor will be asked to pay a fee up front before receiving any proceeds, money, stock or warrants.  This up-front fee is often described as a deposit, underwriting fee, processing fee, administrative fee, commission, regulatory fee or tax, or sometimes an incidental expense that will be paid back later.  Unfortunately, in cases of advance fee fraud, once they have your money you can bet you will never hear from them again.

Continue reading

The Investor Advocacy Clinic: Our Little Law Firm

By Qudsia Shafiq, Spring 2017 Student Intern

I entered the Investor Advocacy Clinic with the naïve goal of mastering securities. While I may not have “mastered” securities, I certainly achieved my goal of learning about securities and securities-related laws – but surprisingly, I left with much more: lifelong friendships, mentors with professionally diverse backgrounds, experiences with clients at different stages in the client relationship, and ultimately, a sense of accomplishment that I could not have achieved in another class.

Helping a client obtain a favorable result within the first few weeks of the clinic was a rewarding start to the semester and reinforced the clinic’s primary goal of helping clients with securities-related issues through arbitration. This set a positive tone for what was yet to come. But the clinic’s flexibility in selecting topics and issues to address, determining which cases to take on, accepting a variety of clients, and being open to collaborate with other organizations to address relevant issues is what allowed it to be an invaluable experience.

This flexible approach directly resulted in students having the opportunity to participate and learn about a variety of issues. How many students can say they researched cutting-edge issues in the financial industry, addressed the current administration’s stance on fiduciary duties, participated in phone conferences with leading lawyers across the country, and did so all in one semester while independently handling cases from intake forward?

In retrospect, joining the clinic was one of the best decisions I have made in law school thus far. Unlike my externships, internships, and jobs, the Investor Advocacy Clinic has provided me the opportunity to undertake the assignments I would be given at a law firm, exposed me to the variety of issues even a niche-practice encounters, all within the comfort of an in-house clinic. This little law firm enjoys abundant resources, strong bonds within and with other clinics, where advice and input is always kindly offered and receiving feedback is the norm. And this is exactly why I can’t wait to come back for my second semester of IAC Clinic II in the fall!