Quateman LLP has three major practice areas – corporate, finance and real estate – that have all been hit hard by the downturn.

But the financial sector’s troubles have also led to a steady stream of work with an increasingly important client: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which has been enlisting firms to untangle the legal issues that can appear when it takes over failed banks.

The FDIC could potentially end the year as the Century City boutique’s biggest client, said Lisa Greer Quateman, the founder and managing partner of the eight-attorney firm.

“I don’t even want to think of what would have happened without them,” she said. “I can only hope I would have found another pipeline.”

When work began to slow in 2008, Quateman said she began looking around for new opportunities for business. She sent out feelers to the FDIC, which she had worked for prior to the closure of its Southern California office in 2000. She received a new legal services agreement around Labor Day, just weeks before investment bank Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy.

The law firm is one of dozens in the L.A. area on the FDIC’s list of approved outside counsel. The agency opened an office in Irvine in December 2008, and has staffed up on lawyers during the downturn. But when it has a legal matter it can’t handle, the agency sends out a request for proposals.

After that, the process of who ends up getting business is “kind of a black box,” Quateman said. But she believes her firm is competitive because of its deep experience, in addition to the fact that the FDIC seems to be trying to provide equal contracting opportunities to smaller or woman-owned firms.

This year, the firm has handled five matters for the agency, including one in July, when it advised in the sale of more than $400 million in single-family mortgages from 16 failed banks. It’s also handled litigation and bankruptcy issues.

“I would say the most challenging aspect of it is to make sure you’ve spotted all the issues so you can identify what legal specialties you have to bring to bear on any given matter or case,” Quateman said.

Global Defense

A year after jumping from Alston & Bird to an L.A. office of Chicago-based Seyfarth Shaw LLP, former federal Prosecutor Michael Zweiback has joined the downtown L.A. office of Nixon Peabody LLP as partner in its government investigations and white-collar defense practice.

Zweiback, 48, said he made the move because of the increasingly global needs of his clients. Nixon Peabody has offices in London, Paris and Shanghai, and is looking to expand to Hong Kong and Beijing.

“Department of Justice investigations are no longer confined to the U.S. national boundary and increasingly global,” he said, “so clients need that protection and ability of a legal team with international capabilities.”

After 18 years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, where he served at one point as chief of the cyber and intellectual crimes division, Zweiback switched to white-collar defense in 2008.

Ed O’Callaghan, co-leader of Nixon Peabody’s government investigations and white-collar defense practice, said that the group’s been busier than ever.

“The particular expertise that Mike brings is his experience in prosecuting and defending theft of trade secrets and intellectual property-related crimes,” he said. “He’s a perfect fit for what we need to bring in on the West Coast.”

Bet-ting on a New President

After a three-month search, L.A.-based non-profit legal services organization Bet Tzedek has found a president and chief executive.

Sandor “Sandy” Samuels, former deputy general counsel to Bank of America Corp.’s home loans and insurance division and a longtime Bet Tzedek board member, will take the reins Tuesday.

Samuels replaces Mitchell Kamin, who left in September after heading the organization for seven years to join the Century City boutique law firm Bird Marella Boxer Wolpert Nessim Drooks & Lincenberg. During his tenure, Kamin was credited for nearly doubling the organization’s budget and staff, and tripling the endowment.

Samuels said he also plans to expand the organization, which gives free legal assistance to thousands of people every year, with demand increasing in the poor economy. Prior to working at Bank of America, he was a chief legal officer at Countrywide Financial Corp. for 18 years.

“I think frankly my experience makes me uniquely qualified to do the job, certainly in the area of consumer issues,” he said. “I know how the banks operate and I know what my clients need.”

Gary D. Roberts, chair of Bet Tzedek’s board, cited Samuels’s history in service organizations as one reason for his selection. In addition to sitting on Bet Tzedek’s board since 1994, Samuels has been on the board of other organizations, including the Los Angeles Urban League, the Constitutional Rights Foundation and American Jewish University.

“As near as I can tell, Sandy’s whole purpose in life is service to others,” Roberts said. “I think he’s going to be ideal in the role.”

Staff reporter Alfred Lee can be reached at alee@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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