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Skadden Mentors

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

Noelle Reed, Partner—Litigation (2022)

Noelle M. Reed is head of Skadden’s Houston office. She has extensive experience representing clients in complex litigation in state and federal trial and appellate courts and arbitrations, as well as in a variety of securities litigation. She represents clients as plaintiffs and defendants and has served as lead trial counsel in more than 30 jury trials and arbitrations. Ms. Reed recently served as a member of Skadden’s Policy Committee, the firm’s governing body. She is a member of the American Law Institute and is listed in Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business, in which she is described by clients as “whip-smart and one of the most talented trial lawyers” and a “master of cross-examination,” as well as The Best Lawyers in America and Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America. Ms. Reed also was named Best Lawyers’ 2021 Houston Litigation—Mergers and Acquisitions Lawyer of the Year. Prior to joining Skadden, she was a trial attorney with the Department of Justice’s Terrorism and Violent Crime Division and an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of Texas.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

We focus on bet-the-company litigation. Our matters are almost invariably highly sophisticated as we deal with cutting-edge legal matters, complicated transactions, and multijurisdictional disputes that can raise novel procedural issues. Many of our cases require extensive legal briefing, and most are fact intensive and can involve wide-ranging document productions and depositions. The firm routinely tries cases, and clients look to us for their most difficult and high-profile matters, particularly when they expect those matters to go to trial.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent companies and individuals in numerous sectors, including energy, financial services, media, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications. I enjoy the opportunity to become fully immersed in my clients’ industries while working on their matters.

What types of cases/deals do you work on? 

Our securities cases generally fit into three categories. We have a robust practice in traditional securities class action litigation involving alleged misstatements or omissions. These cases include, for instance, 10b-5 litigation, which can arise in a variety of contexts. Traditionally, this type of litigation occurred when a company missed its earnings projections or otherwise had to report negative financial news to shareholders. However, in recent years, we’ve also seen an increase in event-driven securities litigation. For instance, after an accident or cyberbreach, shareholders may allege that the company failed to disclose that its internal controls and policies were inadequate. We also defend deal litigation, in which shareholders sue to block a corporate merger or similar transaction requiring shareholder approval. The plaintiffs typically seek an injunction against the shareholder vote until allegedly misleading statements are corrected. We’ve worked on some big ones over the years; the Kinder Morgan leveraged buyout, the LyondellBasell merger, and the Southwestern/Montage acquisition come to mind. These cases are particularly enjoyable because we get to work shoulder to shoulder with our transactional colleagues and clients to help complete a deal. Lastly, we represent corporate fiduciaries in shareholder lawsuits alleging that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties in running the company. These typically are event-driven (e.g., a company pleading guilty to FCPA violations).

We also have a robust general trial practice that cuts across geographies and industries. For example, we’ve recently handled False Claims Act litigation in Boston, labor class actions in Los Angeles, mass tort litigation in Texas, and intellectual property disputes in New York, among other matters.

How did you choose this practice area?

In my former life, I was an Assistant United States Attorney and primarily prosecuted cases involving terrorism or organized crime. My practice with the government was trial-focused, and that is still the work I love most. When I moved into the private sector, I chose Skadden because I liked the sophistication of its practice and the people that I’d be working with. The focus on securities litigation was incidental to my decision. But over the years, I’ve learned to love its complexity and the satisfaction of working with a best-in-class firm and practice. 

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

It really depends on where we are in the litigation cycle of cases. I often spend much of my day counseling clients and strategizing with them on how to manage legal risks and opportunities. There are other days when I’m focused on writing and editing briefs. And when we are immersed in discovery, I get fully involved in depositions and work with experts. For instance, I spent almost two months this fall attending depositions in Switzerland. My favorite part of the practice is time in court. I love oral arguments and trials. Also, as the practice leader of the Houston Litigation Group and the (new) head of the Houston office, I spend time on general administrative matters.

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

I don’t think there’s a single path to the securities litigation practice. Like many of my colleagues, I was a liberal arts major with limited experience in the business world when I started practicing. But I learned what I needed to know on the job. I’d say that the most important skills that attorneys need in a securities litigation practice are strong analytical abilities, superior writing, deep curiosity, and a willingness to master the details in complex factual records. I also am a fan of legal writing expert Bryan Garner, and we try to send our associates to his seminars every year.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Skadden litigators routinely collaborate with our corporate colleagues to provide proactive advice during the transaction process on strategies to mitigate litigation risk, especially in public company deals, which are often litigated. If handling a dispute becomes necessary, we continue coordinating closely with the corporate team to ensure the transaction goes forward. We also advise on provisions to ensure a transaction’s long-term success, such as those regarding representations, indemnification rights, and dispute resolution. So, while I’m a litigator at heart, my practice area allows for work on transactions as well.

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

Junior associates can get extensive experience in legal writing. Securities litigation involves heavy motion practice—particularly on motions to dismiss—so junior attorneys can rapidly and dramatically improve their legal writing within a few months. During the discovery phase, our junior associates often take the lead in evaluating the documents, piecing together paper records, and helping determine what actually happened. I think this is one of the most underrated aspects of the practice. One of my colleagues—unsurprisingly, a history major—likes to compare this process to acting like a historian: We sort through a historical record to determine how to interpret the past.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?

A guiding principle of our summer associate program is to show the summer associates what we do—and give them the opportunity to show us what they can do. So, we treat our summer associates like first-year attorneys. They do what we do. If we are drafting a motion to dismiss, we ask them to help with the research and writing. For example, one of our summer associates was a principal drafter on a cert petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. If we’re in the document discovery phase, our summer associates might help us understand and interpret the paper record. And, if we have depositions or trials, they will be sitting right there with us.

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?

In some ways, the change has been dramatic. In others, it’s business as usual. We often work with other Skadden offices, so telephone and video conferences have been the norm for many years. But, I firmly believe that our attorneys sharpen each other—and it’s harder to do this when we aren’t discussing issues in the hallways outside our offices. The world of remote hearings and depositions seemed unfathomable two years ago. Now, over the course of the pandemic, I’ve participated in a trial, argued many motions to the court and participated in many depositions remotely. I’d rather attend these events in person, but it’s certainly more efficient to take the calls from my house. We’ve moved to a permanent hybrid schedule where attorneys can work from home two days a week. I think it strikes a healthy balance between the professional benefits of working under the same roof and the practical benefits of having more flexibility.