Robert McKenna

Partner

Seattle


Read full biography at www.orrick.com
Robert M. McKenna, partner in Orrick's Seattle and Washington, D.C. offices, leads the state Attorney General team in the firm's Public Policy Group and is a member of the Cyber, Privacy & Data Innovation practice. A former Washington State Attorney General and President of the National Association of Attorneys General, Rob is accomplished in all areas of public policy, appellate law and investigations. He is a Chambers USA Band 1 Partner in Government Relations: State Attorneys General.

Rob represents a wide range of technology and other companies in matters involving cyber security, data privacy, litigation, appellate litigation, regulatory proceedings, state attorney general investigations and legislative issues. His experience, stature and expertise add essential capabilities for clients seeking coordinated policy advocacy, regulatory compliance and litigation strategies in state capitols across the country and in Washington, D.C., where he has testified before Congress and assisted clients who have been called to testify before Congressional committees. While at Orrick, Rob has represented clients in both state and federal court, typically in cases centered on constitutional questions.

Rob served two terms as Attorney General of Washington, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and helped negotiate three of the largest consumer protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of data protection and privacy regulation. Rob was the first state Attorney General to build a computer forensics lab to collect evidence of Internet fraud, and passed one of the nation's first anti-spyware laws.

Rob served as President of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) from 2011-12 where he co-launched the NAAG Intellectual Property Task Force to advance the national fight against counterfeiting and piracy. While serving as NAAG President, he created and led a national initiative to combat human trafficking which continues to this day. The NAAG human trafficking summit he hosted in Seattle in 2012 led AGs to launch state-level initiatives around the country. His fellow attorneys general honored him in 2011 with the Kelley-Wyman Award for “Outstanding Attorney General” in America.

Posts by: Rob McKenna

Preparing for Potential Inquiries into Designated Lender Counsel in PE Sponsored Syndicated Loans

Recent media reports have expressed alarm at the use of “designated lender counsel” in private equity-sponsored leveraged loan transactions.[1]  The phrase refers to the practice of a private equity firm instructing the investment bank arranging its syndicated loan as to which law firm the private equity firm would like the investment bank to use as the bank’s counsel.  According to the press reports, the practice (also known as “sponsor designated counsel”) has become prevalent in the syndicated loan market.  The question raised in the press is whether this practice creates a material conflict of interest, because the law firm representing the investment bank arguably generates fees based on the strength of its relationship with the private equity firm across the table.  If it does, the next question is whether that conflict could be argued to adversely affect the lending arrangement, with potential negative consequences for investors in the loan.

The attention this issue is attracting in the media will likely spark regulatory interest as well as interest among participants in the syndicated loan market.  Prominent lead arrangers in the syndicated loan market should expect inquiries from any number of potential government authorities, including the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (the “OCC“), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the “FDIC“) and state authorities such as attorneys general and financial supervisory agencies.  Below we offer guidance for preparing for potential inquiries and responding to any inquiries made.

Potential Regulatory Issues and Inquiries from Market Participants

Over the past several years, the most prominent regulatory guidance in the leveraged loan market has been the Interagency Guidance on Leveraged Lending that the OCC, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC jointly issued in March 2013 (the “Leveraged Lending Guidelines“), as well as various interpretative updates published by the agencies since then.[2]  The Leveraged Lending Guidelines urge banks to implement “a risk management framework that has an intensive and frequent review and monitoring process.”[3]  The general purpose of the Leveraged Lending Guidelines is to keep regulated financial institutions from “unnecessarily heighten[ing] risks by originating poorly underwritten loans,”[4] which could result in risks that “find their way into a wide variety of investment instruments and exacerbate systemic risks within the general economy.”[5]

Although the Leveraged Lending Guidelines do not address the practice described in the press reports, they do instruct regulated financial institutions to put in place policies and procedures that define conflicts of interest, provide risk management controls, permit employees to report conflicts without fear of reprisals, ensure compliance with relevant laws and provide for adequate employee training in this area.[6]   For this reason, regulated lead arrangers of syndicated loans may expect the Federal Reserve, the OCC and the FDIC to inquire whether the practice of sponsor designated counsel creates a conflict and, if so, whether the institution managed that conflict in compliance with the Leveraged Lending Guidelines.

Outside of Federal banking regulators, other government actors – particularly state attorneys general and financial supervisory agencies – might choose to focus on the practice as well. State regulators, for instance, might opt to investigate whether the practice described in the press constitutes a deceptive trade practice. New York’s statute prohibiting deceptive business practices, for example, makes unlawful “deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any business” and authorizes the attorney general to bring an action to enjoin such acts and to “obtain restitution of any moneys or property obtained”.[7] The statute does not define “deceptive acts or practices,” so all that is necessary is that the attorney general “believe from evidence satisfactory to him” that a deceptive act or practice has occurred. (Federal and other states’ statutes have similar language.) This broad authority would permit such a government authority to launch an investigation following this media driven story.

In addition to regulatory scrutiny, lead arrangers should prepare for potential inquiries from syndicated loan purchasers, who may read the press stories and want to know whether the loans they purchased from the financial institution were reviewed by sponsor designated counsel.

Internal Review

Against this backdrop, there are certain considerations that a financial institution acting as lead arranger for syndicated loans should contemplate in order to address any questions that the institution’s various constituencies may raise and to ensure the institution employs best practices going forward.

  • The press reports fail to distinguish between “left lead arrangers” and other investment banks involved in syndicated loans, but substantially all loan market participants know that on any particular transaction, the “left lead arranger” assumes primary responsibility for the negotiation of loan documents with legal counsel.  As a result, financial institutions should focus their review primarily on transactions where they served as “left lead arranger” and thus directed the relationship with outside counsel.    
  • The press reports allege that a designated law firm might be serving two masters when designated by a private equity sponsor. However, if a designated law firm has a strong, historical relationship with the financial institution, the allegation is difficult to sustain. For example, if Law Firm X generates three times more revenue from its overall relationship with the financial institution than it does from its relationship with the private equity firm, the allegation that the law firm would prioritize the private equity firm’s interests over the bank’s on any particular transaction is implausible.
  • The conflict of interest being alleged is principally the law firm’s and not that of the financial institution.  Financial institutions should consider whether each law firm involved can be reasonably relied upon to manage responsibly any conflicts that may arise, taking into account the firm’s reputation and the financial institution’s own historical experience with, and knowledge of, the firm.
  • A financial institution should also review whether it has ever rejected a sponsor’s designated counsel, or hired “shadow counsel” to review the designated counsel’s documents for any reason.  If so, this would indicate that the financial institution was monitoring the risk alleged by the press articles and mitigating that risk where appropriate.
  • Although time intensive, a financial institution might wish to take a sample of recent top tier sponsor transactions where designated counsel was used and compare the loan documentation in that sample to a similar group of top tier sponsor transactions where outside counsel was not designated.  A finding that the respective sets of loan documents did not differ substantially in lender protection would go a long way toward proving the press allegations spurious.
  • Financial institutions should assess whether appropriate internal constituencies were apprised of this practice, had considered any associated risks and were monitoring on an ongoing basis whether those risks remained contained.   In a financial institution with a product group overseeing leveraged lending, one would want to know whether that group and its associated legal and supervisory functions were monitoring and mitigating those risks on an ongoing basis.

[1] Andrew Ross Sorkin, A Growing Conflict in Wall St. Buyouts, N.Y. Times, Jan. 5, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/05/business/dealbook/a-growing-conflict-in-wall-st-buyouts.html?ref=dealbook;

see also Dan Primack, A Private Equity Conflict Grows on Wall Street, Fortune, Jan. 5, 2016, http://fortune.com/2016/01/05/a-private-equity-conflict-grows-on-wall-street/

[2] 78 Fed. Reg. 17766 (March 22, 2013).

[3] Id. at 17771.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 17772.

[6] Id. at 17776.

[7] N.Y. GEN. BUS. LAW § 349(a)-(b).

Treasury Request for Public Input on Expanding Access to Credit through Online Marketplace Lending

“Online marketplace lending refers to the segment of the financial services industry that uses investment capital and data-driven online platforms to lend to small businesses and consumers.”[1]

On July 20, the Department of the Treasury published a Notice and Request for Information (“RFI”) seeking comment on various aspects of online marketplace lending, including –

  • the business models and products offered to small businesses and consumers
  • the potential to expand access to credit to underserved market segments
  • how the financial regulatory framework should evolve to support the growth of the industry
  • Treasury asks for comment on 14 categories of questions, some of which include multiple specific questions, which we summarize and, with respect to some, offer initial thoughts on below.

To view the full article, please click here.


[1] 80 Fed. Reg. 42866 (July 20, 2015)