DALLAS – After boosting its regulatory expertise by hiring former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Edward Fierro, the public finance team at Houston-based Bracewell sees room to grow in an increasingly complex market.
"We do have a plan of expanding our public finance team," said Bracewell's Washington-based partner Paul Maco. "This is a good time for growth."
Bond volume for Bracewell bond counsel clients reached $7.7 billion in a record year for Texas and the Southwest region, according to Thomson Reuters data. Bracewell ranked third among bond counsel in the region behind McCall Parkhurst & Horton and Norton Rose Fulbright.
The law firm made a "strategic" decision to hire Fierro after he began scouting job opportunities in Houston, Maco said.
"We didn't have an opening in the sense that someone left us," Maco said. "We were in the mindset of strategic growth. The timing of Ed's interest was really just a terrific opportunity."
At the SEC, Fierro was counsel to the director of the SEC's Office of Municipal Securities, currently Jessica Kane. The first director of the office was Maco.
At the SEC, Fierro helped coordinate policy matters, working closely with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
"I had a terrific experience working alongside incredibly dedicated and talented colleagues at the SEC," said Fierro, an Army veteran with a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. But he said family matters drew him to Houston.
"I was thinking about making a change," Fierro said. "My wife had just moved down to Houston for her job. Bracewell seemed like a natural fit. It seemed like a good opportunity to work beside Paul."
Bracewell announced the hire March 17, saying that Fierro would provide bond counsel, disclosure counsel and underwriter's counsel.
Barron Wallace, co-chair of Bracewell's public finance practice, said he learned of Fierro's interest in moving to Houston through a mutual friend.
"Ed and I had several opportunities to visit about Bracewell's national public finance strategy and the important role that he could play given his unique and synergistic background," Wallace said.
Fierro's departure from the SEC was one of many following the election of Donald Trump as president last November, though Fierro said that was not the motivating factor. The Senate is considering Trump's nomination of securities attorney Jay Clayton as SEC chairman to succeed Mary Jo White. Three of the SEC's five commission seats are vacant. While the president designates one of the commissioners as chairman, he cannot fire the appointed commissioners, a provision designed to ensure the independence of the SEC.
Commissioner Michael Piwowar is acting chairman pending Clayton's confirmation.
In recent comments, Piwowar advocated a new focus on the "forgotten investor."
In general, Trump has promised to sharply curb regulatory authority in financial markets.
Politics aside, the SEC is expected to stick to its "core mission -- to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation," Fierro said.
"The recent approval of the proposing release for the Rule 15c2-12 amendments is evidence that the SEC is still, among other things, focused on improving transparency in the municipal securities market," Fierro said.
The SEC's proposed amendments to 15c2-12 are designed to help rating agencies, analysts and others obtain information about bank loans, private placements and other alternatives to publicly offered tax-exempt bonds. The alternative debt instruments increasingly fall outside the current 15c2-12 disclosure requirements.
Fierro's involvement with issues such as the Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation Initiative (MCDC) will be a strong asset for Bracewell clients, Maco said.
"It's very useful for us because it is an immediate and current understanding of the way the government approaches the work that people are doing when putting together and offering documents," Maco said. "Ed was right in the thick of some very groundbreaking work in the past year."
Fierro helped launch the SEC's short-term fixed income market structure initiatives and the municipal advisor regulatory regime. He also reviewed examination findings and enforcement actions.
Before joining the SEC's muni office in the fall of 2013, Fierro was vice president of municipal market sales and trading compliance at Goldman Sachs.
Fierro worked for seven years as a bond attorney at Sidley Austin LLP in New York after an internship at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.
Fierro served in the Army from 1996 to 1999 and joined the California National Guard as a legal administrative clerk from 1999 to 2001. While with the guard, he assisted soldiers filing paperwork for veterans' benefits.
The Office of Municipal Securities was created a year before Fierro joined the Army, with Maco as its first director.
Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC established the OMS as a standalone office to administer SEC rules on practices of broker-dealers, municipal advisors, investors, and issuers in the municipal securities area and to coordinate with the MSRB on rulemaking and enforcement actions.
Creation of the OMS came on the heels of the Orange County, Calif., bankruptcy, an event that was considered unthinkable in 1994. In addition to managing the fallout from that event, Maco led efforts to end pay-to-play in the muni market and launched a variety of educational programs.
In 2000, Maco joined the firm of Vinson & Elkins in its Washington office. Eleven years later, Maco and 13 other V&E partners shifted to the firm of Bracewell & Giuliani as V&E dropped out of public finance. At the time, V&E was ranked 18th among U.S. bond counsel. Last year, with 30 attorneys, Bracewell's public finance team ranked 10th, according to data from Thomson Reuters.
The firm expanded its San Antonio office in 2013 with the hiring of four attorneys, including San Antonio city attorney Michael D. Bernard.
In 2014, the firm lost legendary Texas lawyer and political leader Ray Hutchison, who died at age 81. Hutchison, who was senior counsel at V&E and Bracewell Giuliani, was instrumental in getting Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport off the ground and played a key role in the formation of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
In January 2016, Bracewell dropped Giuliani from its name as the former New York mayor joined the law firm of Greenberg Traurig.