Potential plaintiffs must be accurately informed about the arbitration process

by Dominic Corva

Daily Cougar Staff

Arbitration is replacing litigation in the securities world, according to Joel Seligman, dean of the University of Arizona's College of Law.

Seligman presented the First Annual Houston Law Review Frankel Lecture at the University of Houston's Bates School of Law Thursday.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd in the law school's Krost Hall, Seligman explored the changing world of securities arbitration and focused on the findings of the Ruder Commission, which just one week ago recommended major changes in the securities arbitration process on behalf of the National Association of Securities Dealers.

"Over the last 10 years, arbitration has replaced litigation as a means to resolve disputes," Seligman said.

The shift came about to keep disputes out of federal courts and minimize legal costs, he said.

Since arbitration is resolved by private panels instead of courts, the legal implications of the decisions are at present ill-defined, Seligman said.

After the lecture, representatives from the securities profession presented their view on the issue.

Brandon Becker, special adviser to the chairman for International Derivatives of the Securities and Exchange Commission gave an overview of the SEC's role in the oversight of securities arbitration proceedings and emphasized the need for study of the role of arbitration in employment discrimination cases.

Potential plaintiffs should also be provided with accurate information about the arbitration process before agreeing to compulsory arbitration contracts, said John C. Coffee Jr., a professor of law at Columbia University and a member of the SEC's Advisory Committee on Capital Formation and Regulatory Processes.

However, the panelists said they were more concerned about the competency and training of arbiters as impartial judges in arbitration cases.

"There is a problem of perceived fairness, particularly in employee discrimination cases," said Richard E. Spiegal, professor of law at Northwestern University and a member of the Ruder Commission. "A black woman who brings her case to arbitration will not be comfortable with three guys who look like me (middle-aged Caucasians) deciding her fate."

The Frankel Lecture Series was organized by the Houston Law Review. The speaker picks the topic and the Review puts together a panel of commentators.

"We want to attract the highest quality of speakers and authors for the series to increase name recognition and prestige of the University of Houston Law School. We had a very impressive group this year," said D'Andra Millsap, editor in chief of the Houston Law Review.

Seligman said, "I thought it was great. The panelists were extraordinary and it was a pleasure to participate in this. You have some very talented professors here, and I enjoyed meeting people whose work I have read and seeing old friends."

Forty Houston lawyers received Continuing Legal Education Credit for their attendance at the review, Millsap said. About another 350 students filled out the lecture hall.

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