Lawyer Limelight: Julia Strickland

By Xenia Kobylarz

Los Angeles attorney Julia Strickland, a partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, has made a name defending the titans of the financial industry in large-scale, complex class action suits. Her client list includes American Express, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, Citi, TransUnion and Sallie Mae. Recently, the 30-year-financial-litigation veteran has expanded her client base to include Internet financial giant PayPal, successfully representing the online payment service and its parent company, eBay, against a consumer class action suit. Strickland took a break from her busy schedule to talk about how she grew her practice, her extensive Buddha collection and her passion for travel.

Lawdragon: Describe your practice and what distinguishes it from other lawyers and law firms?

Julia Strickland: Our practice focuses on the defense of financial services companies in class action litigation. There are very few firms in the country that have this as a focal point for a practice group. What distinguishes us is our very high level of expertise in what is very much a specialty practice area. This practice has grown over time to include representation of major bank and credit card companies. As our expertise has developed, our successes have become visible and resulted in many more matters over the years. We’ve been very visible in this community for about 15 to 20 years.

LD: How did you end up representing major banks and credit card companies?

JS: My entry into this practice was somewhat serendipitous. I started out doing a substantial amount of securities class action litigation. At the time, we had a partner who also had a significant banking regulatory practice. He introduced me to some of his clients who were smaller banks. I started doing bank work on individual cases, not class actions. At that time banks were not being sued as part of class actions. Years later, when banks were being sued as part of class actions I brought something unique to the table which was deep expertise in class action litigation due to my securities experience and a deep understanding of the banking business and the regulatory environment. Very few lawyers had that. So we were able to build on that.”

LD: Can you share some recent successes in the courtroom?

JS: Chae vs. Sallie Mae in the Ninth Circuit in 2010 comes to mind. This was an uncertified class action filed in 2007 challenging Sallie Mae’s methods of calculating interest, assessing late fees and setting the repayment start date on federally guaranteed student loans. The complaint alleged violations of California common law and state consumer-protection statutes. After Sallie Mae obtained summary judgment in the trial court, the Ninth Circuit affirmed and held that plaintiffs’ state-law claims were preempted under the Higher Education Act.

Another one was Zepeda vs. PayPal, Inc. decided in February of this year. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted PayPal’s motion to dismiss various claims asserted by online sellers of goods, finding in part that the placement of holds on sellers’ accounts did not violate the terms of the parties’ user agreement and could not serve as the basis for a breach of fiduciary duty claim.

A third case we are proud of Gonzalez v. Bank of America, decided in our clients’ favor in Texas in 2009. We successfully represented Loeb Holding Corporation, an investment firm named as a defendant in a class action complaint alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and unjust enrichment. The complaint alleged that Loeb was the controlling parent of defendant Intersections, Inc., which was alleged to have conspired with Bank of America to sell “worthless insurance” to Bank of America’s low-income and Hispanic customers from whose accounts the premiums were deducted. Loeb obtained dismissal on a motion to dismiss.

LD: What’s the most pressing issue right now on the minds’ of your clients?

JS: The changing and somewhat uncertain regulatory environment for financial services companies. The consumer financial protection bureau is in its earliest stages and there have been pronouncements from that bureau as to the direction it will take and the initiatives it will pursue, but those are not entirely clear. There are issues with respect to federal preemption, which is very important to national banks. We live in an ever changing and uncertain regulatory environment, which necessarily will impact bank operations as well as the risk of public and private enforcement actions.

LD: As a member of your firm’s Executive Committee and an active mentor for new lawyers, how do you inspire associates?

JS: I try to inspire associates in the same way that I was inspired. I think we all learn in our lives from the good and the bad experiences that we’ve had. What makes me the lawyer that I am today is that from the very beginning I was assigned matters where I played a significant role and my input was valued. Whether it’s the most senior lawyer or most junior lawyer, each one wants to feel they are doing something important and it matters in the development and success of a case. People want to know that they are part of making something happen and that their efforts are appreciated. It’s not easy. We are all extremely busy and under tremendous pressure from clients, and I try to remember what made me want to succeed, and give exactly that: to be an important contributor whose contribution was valued.

LD: I heard you collect Buddhas. When did you start and why?

JS: I started collecting Buddhas many years ago. We travel extensively. I’m a huge believer that travel is a hugely enriching experience. It takes you away from your life and challenges and teaches you that there are many different people in the world with lots of different beliefs. In the process of that, we really value our travels, and in particular Southeast Asia. I saw so many Buddhas and realized the serenity they bring to you, just looking at them, and that was really the inception. It also builds on my interests since college. My major was art history and religion and my thesis in college was in symbolism in Far Eastern art that focused on the symbolism of the Mandala. That was the beginning of my interest in the art of Southeast Asia and Buddhist art and artifacts. By the way, I’m not a Buddhist.

LD: Aside from collecting art, any other hobbies or interests you pursue outside of law?

JS: Travel is the big one. We traveled to every continent with the exception of Antarctica, extensively. And it’s really an important part of our lives. Other than that, my children Katie and Carolyn, who are both out of school and on their own now.