Rachel Hershfang is a trial attorney in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Boston Regional Office, where she has worked since the spring of 2008. Her practice to date has included insider trading, accounting fraud, prime bank schemes, offering fraud, cherry‐picking, and market manipulation. Rachel began her career in 1995 as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Reginald C. Lindsay for the District of Massachusetts. An alum of Ropes & Gray, she spent 7 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston, where she worked in the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. At the BBA, Rachel serves as Chair of the Boston Bar Journal Board of Editors and is a member of the Criminal Law Section.
- As Chair of the BBJ, what have you found the most rewarding so far? What do you feel you carry away from the experience?
I am consistently impressed with the breadth and diversity of experience in our bar, as exemplified by the members of the BBJ’s Board of Editors and by the variety of articles we publish. It’s incredibly humbling (and exciting) to be regularly surrounded by such smart, engaged, and well-read lawyers and judges. The intellectual give-and-take of both editorial board meetings and email exchanges has pushed me to think about areas of the law that are outside my usual ambit, an experience one doesn’t get often enough after law school. In a typical meeting, we might hear from Land Court judges and practitioners on the hot-button issues in their fields; from intellectual property and cybersecurity experts about the new skirmishes in the data world; from corporate lawyers on the newest form of deal-related litigation; and from criminal law practitioners about the ever-changing law on electronic surveillance, juvenile justice, and other state and federal issues. I learn more in a one-hour meeting than I would by reading the newspaper, cover to cover, every day. Which is lucky, because who can manage that regularly?
As a specific example, although I was in a bit of a sleep-deprived fog because I’d recently had a baby, I was very proud to be involved with our publication this fall of the Goodridge anniversary issue. It provided an opportunity to reflect on the incredible, nationwide changes to our law and practices toward same-sex couples in the course of only ten years. What a long, great trip it’s been!
As for what I can carry away – I hope it’s too early to tell! I’ve got more than half of my tenure ahead of me, and am very much looking forward to continuing to work with the Board of Editors and our authors. And now a shameless pitch – do you have a great idea for an article? Please pass it along!
- You served as a clerk to Judge Reginald Lindsay in the MA District Court at the start of your career. How do you feel that influenced where you’ve ended up? Do you have any stories or specific memories of the judge serving as a mentor or helping you figure out where you wanted to go in the profession?
Clerking for Judge Lindsay was such a pleasure. He referred to his former clerks as his “children in the law,” and it felt like family in his chambers. I particularly cherished how seriously he took our ideas, and the care and attention he devoted to thinking through legal issues with his clerks. Memos didn’t just vanish into his lobby; he would meet with us, noodle through the issues, and then (with his Southern charm) politely disagree, or not. He loved being a judge, and it showed in his good humor on the bench. I remember one case when I was clerking, a long civil case that was tried over three months during the snowiest winter ever. All the counsel were from California (including one who seemed to believe that cowboy boots were suitable for snow-boot service), and he never tired of teasing them about the weather.
Judge Lindsay didn’t do anything (that I recall) to steer my career in any particular direction, but, like a good parent, he was always willing to listen and talk, and offered advice along the way. His support and evident pride were so important during the early years of my career. I still remember (with no little embarrassment – like a parent, he also had that ability) his incredibly sweet, personal speech when he swore me in as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. There I was, brand new to the office, in front of many of my colleagues, and a federal judge was talking about seeing me running around in diapers. (That was when I was a child, just to be clear, and not when I was clerking.) Lunches with him were long and entertaining, full of his hilarious reminiscences about his college days and his not-so-hilarious stories of growing up in the segregated south. He was generous with his time, thoughtful in his responses, and dedicated to trying to achieve justice for the litigants before him. It was inspiring to see.
- What advice do you have for younger attorneys looking to the S.E.C. as a desired career option?
First, I would congratulate them on their good judgment. The S.E.C. is a marvelous place to work, offering that elusive blend of challenging, varied, stimulating legal work, government service, and a humane work environment.
Second, I would say there is no single path to the S.E.C. Because the legal roles in our office vary, there are different types of experience that may be relevant. We have a small group of trial attorneys, comprised of relatively experienced practitioners with experience in civil litigation, trial practice, or both. If that is what a younger attorney wants to do, there is no substitute for courtroom time. Whatever you can do to get in front of a jury – work for a DA’s office, join a litigation boutique, volunteer through your law firm for a pro bono opportunity that involves trials – will help your case.
But don’t neglect your civil discovery and litigation background! The largest group of lawyers in our office are staff attorneys, who are our front-line investigators. General civil (or criminal) litigation background is a good training ground for that job, since it involves legal writing and reasoning. If you have specialized knowledge about securities regulation or compliance, so much the better. The securities laws are complex and many, so lawyers who come into the office with a firm grounding in securities practice have a leg up. Some lawyers also work on our examination side, going out to check compliance at the many entities the S.E.C. is responsible for regulating. Not all of our examiners are lawyers, but it makes for a double threat when they are. Most of all, I would encourage people to apply whenever they see a job that may appeal to them. It often takes more than one try to get a position at the S.E.C., and it’s worth the effort.