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BEAR MARKET ANNIVERSARY | Downturn Leaves Trail of
Tales

Robert Weiss

Lawyer with a cause

March 16, 2003|Walter Hamilton

The bear market has been an oddly mixed blessing for Robert Weiss.

In one way, it's been costly and humbling. After retiring at age 41, Weiss lost more than $1 million trading stocks from his home on Long Island and had to find another job.

But Weiss hated his old career as a personal-injury lawyer. He loves his new one: suing Wall Street's biggest firms on behalf of aggrieved investors.

Weiss believes the brokerage industry betrayed small investors during the bull market by encouraging them to play the market while never disclosing stock analyst conflicts or irregularities in new stock offerings.

With his law partner, Weiss is assembling a nationwide legal team. They have filed hundreds of arbitration cases and plan tens of thousands more.

Unlike many attorneys, Weiss suffered the same fate as his clients. Although he had built a sizable practice by the late 1990s, he had grown disgusted with slip-and-fall cases. The epiphany came during a deposition when he realized that a client was lying about how an accident occurred.

"The whole business was sleazy," he said. "I felt I was not doing anything with my life."

Weiss sold his practice to focus on his family. Weiss ramped up his stock trading, in which he had become immersed during the late 1990s. Soon he was a full-fledged market junkie. He read everything he could about the market, watched CNBC and paid attention to stock analysts.

But Weiss' timing couldn't have been worse. He sold his law practice in March 2000, the month the market peaked. Within six months, he knew he had to get another job.

As he learned more about the scandals engulfing Wall Street, it became clear what that would be. Weiss boned up on securities law, formed a new firm and vowed that Wall Street would be forced to make amends.

"It's become more than a business for me," he said. "It's become a cause."

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