Months after the end of World War II, a 28-year old Brooklyn lawyer recently discharged as an Army officer took a job with a fledgling New Deal alphabet-soup agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC then operated from its wartime quarters at the Philadelphia Athletic Club, and it had adopted its core antifraud rule, Rule 10b-5, only four years earlier.
The lawyer, Irving Meyer Pollack, went on to become more than an SEC legend. Indeed, he became one of the most – perhaps the most – distinguished enforcement lawyer in the SEC’s now 82-year history. As briefly outlined below, along the way Irv personally founded the SEC’s Enforcement Division, which he led as its first director. He then went on to become one of the very few SEC staffers ever to be named an SEC commissioner before completing a 34-year career with the SEC. But for Irv, that was only the beginning as he next launched a three decade career in private practice, including considerable public service while representing his private clients.
Irv hailed from the Flatbush neighborhood at the geographic and cultural heart of Brooklyn and graduated cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1938 and magna cum laude from Brooklyn Law School in 1942. After service in the Army Air Force during the war, he joined the SEC staff in 1946. The staff was then small, and Irv began as an entry-level staff attorney. In his early years, he served during what may have been the most challenging period in the SEC’s history. After its wartime exile in Philadelphia as a “non-essential” agency, it was allowed to return to Washington only in 1948. The SEC was then housed in a “temporary” war-surplus structure referred to as the “tar paper shack” at E and 3rd Streets NW that was in later years rebuilt to shelter the capital’s homeless. Congress then proceeded to cut the agency’s budget severely during the 1950s.
Things changed dramatically for the SEC and for Irv in 1961, when the new Kennedy administration recruited Columbia’s corporations and securities law professor William L. Cary as its SEC chairman. One of Cary’s many smart decisions was to quickly turn to Irv Pollack, then an SEC Assistant General Counsel handling criminal enforcement referrals, and to appoint him as an Associate Director in one of the SEC’s two major operating units, the Division of Trading and Exchanges, soon to be renamed Trading and Markets. Irv’s mission was to build that division’s firepower to bring SEC enforcement cases. According to securities scholar Joel Seligman, Irv led his division in bringing more enforcement cases during those three years under Cary than in all previous 26 years of its existence.
By the time the SEC mounted a major restructuring in 1972, Irv had advanced to become the Director of the Division of Trading and Markets. When the SEC decided as part of its restructuring to consolidate its then-fragmented enforcement work into a single new division, to be called its Division of Enforcement, it naturally turned to Irv to be its founding director. Irv fortunately chose as his Deputy Director the equally-talented Stanley Sporkin, who succeeded him as the Division’s second director before moving on to a long and distinguished career as a federal judge. Judge Sporkin recalls Irv as a humble but great leader who would “push you until you became creative,” but who would “let you grow on your own terms,” and who would then back you up in the decisions you made. All the while, Irv was “extremely fair, and “if the Commission didn’t have a case, we wouldn’t do it.” Judge Sporkin concludes that working for Irv was “the greatest experience of my life.”
In particular, Judge Sporkin recalls that Irv was a “brilliant innovator,” and the individual who conceived of the approach of leveraging on the SEC’s power to bring “injunctive” actions to tap into the full equitable powers of the federal courts, including the power to order disgorgement to get money back for investors, along with receiverships and other ancillary remedies. In Irv’s own words in a 2002 SEC Historical Society interview (available at sechistorical.org): “I remember one Commissioner named Adams, who came from New England somewhere. When I presented the first case where I was asking for a receiver he said, ‘Where in the statute does it say we can get a receiver?…’ I said, ‘Well, look, it’s an ancillary remedy. If the court says we can get it, we’ll get it. If the court says we can’t, we can’t. There’s nothing to prevent us from asking for it.’ And we were successful, of course, in getting it.”
After leading two SEC divisions, Irv’s next achievement was to be appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress as an SEC commissioner. Few SEC staffers have served as director of two divisions, and few have risen from the staff to become a commissioner. Irv may well be the only person to have done both.
As a commissioner, he was like few others in the SEC’s history. Bill McLucas of Wilmer Hale recalls his first encounter with Irv as commissioner on Bill’s very first case at the SEC: “In 1978 I was a young staff attorney in the Enforcement Division and my first case, arising out of an accounting and disclosure inquiry, had just been sent to the Commission for consideration. Commissioner Pollack’s office called and asked for a meeting to review the recommendation. My branch chief sent me alone to meet with the commissioner, reasoning that Commissioner Pollack likely wanted to pose questions to the staff lawyer who knew the facts, not a supervisor. The one-hour meeting left a lasting impression. Here was a commissioner interested in not only what I had to say, but intensely focused on ensuring that the facts supported the recommendation. His attention to detail, his passion for fairness and his interest in discussing the case with a young, inexperienced staff lawyer, had an enormous impact on my career.”
Bill’s career included winning the prestigious SEC staff award later created to honor Irv, and thereafter leading the Enforcement Division in the 1990s with distinction as its longest serving director, and then building the Wilmer Hale securities practice. Looking back, Bill comments that “the Irving Pollack Award, while somewhat faded since I received it more than 30 years ago, still hangs in my office. I am more proud of that framed certificate than words can convey because of the man whose legacy it honors.”
Professor Roberta Karmel of Brooklyn Law School served as an SEC commissioner alongside Irv. She recalls him during his commissioner period as “a person of great integrity who cared deeply about the SEC and its mission.” Even when views on matters before the commissioners differed, he was “always very gracious and respectful” of the opinions of others. Commenting on Irv’s longevity, Roberta recalls that he “used to lecture me on ways to keep healthy such as walking up the seven flights of stairs to our offices.” (The author recalls running up a Metro escalator behind him when he was 86.)
Many leave the SEC after five, ten or fifteen years. For Irv, it was after 34 years of incredible service to the agency. Then in his sixties, some might have expected him to retire. For Irv, it was just the beginning of the next 36 years in private practice, all while continuing to serve the public interest. In 1980, he began a long-term law partnership with Laurence Storch, founder of Storch & Brenner. When Irv was 87, Fulbright & Jaworski wisely recruited both Larry Storch and Irv, making Irv perhaps the oldest Big Law lateral in history. At age 93, it was finally time for Irv to leave large firm practice, but his answer again was not to retire, but to continue as an active practitioner with the newly formed Pollack & Storch.
Irv’s years in private practice included still more remarkable achievements. He advised the World Bank, its affiliated International Finance Corporation, the International Organization of Securities Commissions, the National Association of Securities Dealers, and the Ontario and Quebec Securities Commissions, as well as the financial services firms and individuals that were his clients. As the court-appointed Claims Administrator in the Prudential Securities limited partnership case, Irv supervised the distribution of $1 billion to investors. He also served as special master in a number of federal actions and as independent counsel under various regulatory orders.
Some may wonder what was Irv like in his later years. In Washington we have an informal group of SEC enforcement private practitioners – about 300 of our closest friends – who assemble monthly for lunch. Irv was among the 50 or so who turn out for every lunch gathering. You’d see him there talking not with those happily very successful among our group, but instead with the young people and with those more senior whose practices were struggling. You’d hear him there listening, offering encouragement and advice, and showing people he genuinely cared how they were doing. On the other end of the spectrum, Irv also turned out monthly for lunch meetings of a little-known but exceptionally prestigious group – the Federal Bar Association’s securities section executive council – more than half of whose members are former SEC commissioners and division directors. A couple of years ago, that group’s then chair, thinking Irv would say a sentence or two of encouragement, gently asked if he’d offer some advice to that month’s lunch guest, the current SEC co-director of enforcement. Then in his mid-90s, Irv responded instantly with a well-structured and wise 10-minute soliloquy on the principles the director should hold highest. Breath taking in both delivery and content, and very moving. Whoever you were, Irv always had time and exceptional guidance for you. He truly understood what was really important, personally as well as professionally.
So who can sum up such an extraordinary life? For that, Irv’s longtime law partner Larry Storch says it all: “Irv was a brilliant lawyer. During and after his government service, he was able to quietly get successful results for the Commission and for his clients in a wide range of difficult matters. He was modest and well known to be fair. Irv insisted on doing things above board or, as he would say, ‘the regular way.’ While Irv was never shy to stand up to those who advanced poor arguments, he was emphatic only when necessary and endeavored to be kind even while challenging opponents and relentlessly pursuing his clients’ interests.” Most in our bar will say that Irv was one of the most impressive and decent people they have ever known. The others regrettably did not have the opportunity to get to know him.