Profile: Jay G. Baris
Published by The New York Sun on 2005-01-31
While the State University of New York at Stony Brook may not have a formal
"most likely to succeed" designation for star students, it was clear to classmates of Jay G. Baris back in the mid 1970s that he was headed for big things. Mr. Baris has certainly fulfilled the promise of his undergraduate days -- he graduated a Phi Beta Kappa --acquiring a law degree from Hofstra University and eventually becoming a partner with Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP. He's widely regarded as a leading national practitioner in counseling clients in the financial services industry.
"I primarily represent investment companies and their directors," Mr. Baris said
yesterday. "I guide them through the regulatory minefield."
Specifically, he focuses on mutual funds, of which there are some 7,000 in America, representing $7 trillion in investments; in contrast, deposit accounts in U.S.
commercial banks have $5.3 trillion. Mutual funds have come under tremendous
scrutiny from Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission -- ever since the New York State Attorney General uncovered some employees in mutual funds cheating shareholders. That investigation prompted a flurry of new legislation in Congress and more vigorous SEC enforcement in an industry that, until then, had been mostly scandal free.
Mr. Baris and his firm -- which has 300 lawyers -- help money managers and
independent directors of mutual funds meet their fiduciary obligations. This means dealing with issues arising under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the USA Patriot
Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the Bank Holding Company Act.
"Managing other people's money can be risky business," Mr. Baris said, "and
we're right behind them, watching their backs. That requires a keen understanding of securities laws, and applying considerable judgment."
"It also requires keeping up with fast-changing laws, understanding markets," he
said, "and it requires understanding and evaluating risks, thinking fast on
your feet, and answering lot of questions for which they aren't any easy answers. It requires an ability to solve complicated problems in a short amount of time. Plus, you're dealing with top institutional clients who're at the top of their game."
And his job requires sitting through a lot of board meetings in different parts
of the country -- which is good for his frequent-flier miles account, but not
necessarily for his constitution.
Mr. Baris attributes his prominence in the business to "dumb luck." Back in 1982, when he started working for a Wall Street firm, the mutual funds industry was a sort of sleepy backwaters. "No one knew that this special field would explode," he said. "I got into the legal aspects pretty early, and this helped build up my practice."
His success has been such that Mr. Baris is in great demand as a speaker on securities law. He serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Investment Companies and Investment Advisers; the Subcommittee is part of the American Bar Association's Section of Business Law Committee on Federal Regulation of Securities. Mr. Baris also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of The Review of Securities and Commodities Regulation and the Mutual Fund Directors Forum.
Dealing as he does with mutual funds, surely he invests in them?
"We have ethical constraints at our firm -- and in the industry," Mr. Baris
said. "I invest only in funds, because I prefer to leave stock picking to the professionals."
But surely he has his likes and dislikes?
"I like the mid-cap growth sector," he said. "I view that sector the same way as
my waistline: it has a large growth potential."
Nicely put. His sense of humor shouldn't be surprising: Mr. Baris is a member of the board of governors of the Friars Club, where the currency of the realm is laughter.
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist