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The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Martin Bell and Brooke Cucinella are partners in the Litigation department and members of the Government and Internal Investigations practice. Martin joined the firm in 2021 from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, where he was a federal prosecutor for more than a decade. Martin served as a senior member of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force, and before that as a member of the Public Corruption Unit and the Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit. While at the SDNY, Martin acted as lead counsel in fourteen jury trials. Martin received his B.A. and J.D. from Harvard University. 

Prior to joining the firm in 2018, Brooke also served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District, where she worked in the Criminal Division and as a senior member of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. One of Benchmark Litigation’s “Top 250 Women in Litigation” in the United States, Brooke advises a wide range of companies and executives in major investigations. She graduated magna cum laude, Order of the Coif, from Fordham University School of Law, where she was Editor-In-Chief of the Securities Law Moot Court Competition; she received her B.A. from Kalamazoo College.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Martin: Brooke and I are members of the Government and Internal Investigations Practice, and we advise clients on a wide range of criminal, regulatory, congressional, and sensitive government inquiries and internal investigations. Clients turn to us in a broad spectrum of situations—it could be to respond to a government investigation or inquiry, or to obtain advice in connection with a subject of concern for the corporation. These matters are often confidential and highly impactful for companies and their employees, particularly when criminal conduct may be involved.
Both Brooke and I also represent clients in civil litigation matters.

What types of clients do you represent?

Brooke: Our clients run the gamut and include financial institutions, private equity companies and their portfolio businesses, and Fortune 500 companies; we represent public and private companies, boards, and board committees. We also represent individuals, including current and former executives.

Martin: There’s a lot of variety in our clients, which keeps our practice interesting. I even have one family dispute that’s made its way into court! Both Brooke and I also enjoy active pro bono practices, advising whole different sets of clients. I’m currently representing a young man in an upcoming hearing in connection with a felony conviction; we’re hoping to reduce his sentence significantly in light of intervening changes in the law.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Brooke: Right now I’m representing clients in connection with an SEC investigation related to communications practices and a Board Committee in relation to its ongoing response to shareholder demands relating to an international bribery scheme. I recently advised a pharmaceutical company in an anti-corruption investigation, and not too long ago, I prepared a report and recommendations to Stanford University concerning its athletics admissions practices in connection with the Varsity Blues investigation. On the civil litigation side, I’m working on a securities class action involving a data breach and am representing an individual sued by the SEC in a case that will likely go to trial. As Martin mentioned, I also have a large pro bono docket. I’m on the Criminal Justice Act Panel in the Southern District and am currently representing a sex trafficking victim who’s going to testify in a major trial; in another case, I’m filing a brief seeking a new trial based on a Brady violation by the government.

Martin: I joined Simpson Thacher in 2021 after working for a decade at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where I handled public corruption and securities prosecutions. I was fortunate to obtain significant trial experience—14 trials, all told—and hope this experience will be of value to the firm’s clients in any number of litigation matters. My work at the firm generally focuses on securities and securities-adjacent litigation and investigations. There is great variety in the cases, but the common thread is that they tend to involve companies or individuals facing high-pressure crises or disputes.

How did you choose this practice area?

Martin: Clerking for a federal district court judge in Brooklyn really shaped the course of my career; it gave me the chance to watch federal prosecutors in action every day. They were so good at their jobs and passionate about their work, and provided a measure of stability and direction that judges relied on. I hoped to one day join their ranks, and was fortunate to get that opportunity. After working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, there is a natural progression for what your private practice might look like when you leave—but what drew me to this practice goes back to being lucky enough to clerk in Brooklyn where I saw really impressive folks doing really impressive work.

Brooke: I always knew that I wanted to be a litigator and that I wanted to do trials. In college, I interned for the Legal Aid Society, and thought I’d work on the defense side. Then, as a young associate at a law firm, I worked with two lawyers who were former federal prosecutors, and they encouraged me to apply to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I spent six years working in the Southern District, where I was a member of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. I believe deeply in the need for fairness in the justice system, particularly in the criminal justice system, and am glad to be back on the defense side. I also really enjoy the investigations aspect of things—the mystery in trying to figure out what happened in a given situation and getting to the bottom of things. I feel very lucky that I ended up where I am because I feel like I’m exactly where I should be.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Martin: It’s become a cliché to say that there are no typical days, but it’s true! On any given day, I might interview witnesses or communicate with the SEC or the U.S. Attorney’s Office, trying to better understand the government’s case so we can help our clients make good and informed decisions, and I regularly talk with clients about matters at issue. But quite often, adventures pop up that you don’t anticipate or schedule. There’s a lot of listening, analyzing and advising, and in all of these matters, I try to act thoughtfully, taking on our clients’ problems as my own and thinking outside the box with our clients’ best interests in mind.

Brooke: Most of my days involve strategy phone calls with clients followed by team meetings to determine how to execute the strategy, execute advocacy, and develop workstreams to get things done quickly and efficiently. I do a lot of checking in with my team to make sure we’re on task and that everyone understands the big picture. As Martin said, crises can spring up very quickly—for example in connection with a whistleblower or a police raid—and those unforeseen emergencies can be some of our most exciting matters, where you have to make strategic decisions very quickly. Having to fly into action and taking an “all hands on deck” approach to help a client is one of my favorite parts of this job.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Martin: I’d recommend going to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to just about anybody. Prosecutors and government officials see things differently, in a way that is healthy. The experience teaches you how to prioritize and how to respond to crises calmly. Clerking is also a great experience, and gives you a window into how judges think through problems. It’s a wonderful educational tool; there’s a depth of study in that apprenticeship-type setting that will inform what you do for the rest of your career.

Brooke: Try to get as much on-your-feet experience as possible. I’d recommend doing clinics in law school, particularly those with a trial advocacy component. I always encourage associates to take on pro bono work. It’s a fantastic way to get substantive experience early on, and offers important legal counsel to those in need.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Martin: It’s tremendously rewarding to be able to walk into a crisis situation, sit down with a client, and walk out with a well-thought-out plan. A lot of our advice comes down to two things: experience and common sense, and I like being able to draw on both of these things to help people through difficult times. When you marry the instinct you’ve developed through years of training and experience to the common sense you use in everyday life, you’re already in a place where you can give people pretty good advice. Clients often view their problems or emergencies as less daunting after we’ve had the chance to pick them apart and chart a course of action, which is very gratifying.

Brooke: I also like that it’s so high-stakes. I like that our work matters to the companies and to the individuals—that it’s impactful. And I like how intelligent our clients are; the in-house teams I work with are smart and savvy and really fun to partner with.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Brooke: One of the things I love about Simpson Thacher is that our group is small, which forces us to be really efficient and to focus on what matters. We’re also highly collaborative, and have a deep bench of former government officials and prosecutors who bring distinct, valuable experience in support of our clients. I genuinely love our group!

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Martin: Junior lawyers are tremendously valuable; they’re often closest to the facts and the documents and in the best position to put together a witness outline or flag issues of concern. I tell junior associates that each assignment is an opportunity to establish a positive record. Associates who have proven themselves will get the chance to argue motions, cross-examine witnesses, and to obtain the type of on-your-feet experiences that likely motivated them to go to law school.

How important is prior criminal law experience (e.g., working for the Prosecutor’s office or DA) in paving a successful career in white collar defense?

Brooke: To be a strong defense counsel in this area, you really want to have government experience under your belt, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be in criminal law. You want to be able to wear different hats and do your job well no matter which side you’re on. Seeing things from the government’s point of view gives you a leg up when you’re helping a client navigate an investigation; it makes you better at your job.

Martin: I think it’s also helpful to get a sense of who the players are and will be for the next few decades. The relationships you establish and experiences you obtain provide distinct advantages; that’s even more true now than it was ten or twenty years ago.