Christopher Lipsett is leading the banking industry's charge against credit unions.

The partner in the Washington law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering is the brains behind the American Bankers Association's suit against the National Credit Union Administration, which the Supreme Court is expected to decide next month.

"I look at the bottom line," says Michael F. Crotty, deputy general counsel for litigation at the American Bankers Association. "How can I not be satisfied? He's the best. There is virtually nothing for which he is unprepared."

The ABA's challenge seemed doomed after courts twice agreed that credit unions may serve employees at more than one company. But the case was resurrected repeatedly by a federal appeals court, which ruled in July 1996 that all members of a credit union must share a single bond.

A victory would not be Mr. Lipsett's first Supreme Court triumph. In the Smiley case last year, he helped convince the high court that out-of-state banks may charge late fees.

After being graduated from the University of Pennsylvania law school in 1974, Mr. Lipsett clerked for the federal appeals court in Dallas and for the Supreme Court. He joined Wilmer, Cutler in 1976 and started working on a series of class actions involving consumer credit problems.

Mr. Lipsett's long list of financial clients includes Citicorp, Household Finance Corp., First Chicago NBD Corp., CoreStates Financial Corp., and Banc One Corp.

He has become embroiled in a series of class actions that accuse lenders of tricking borrowers into repaying loans instead of declaring bankruptcy, and he is fighting efforts by South Dakota to use the state's unclaimed- property law to seize credit card payments that are never credited to a cardholder's account. This happens when a bank cannot read the person's account number or match his or her name with an account.

Although infrequent, these uncredited payments amount to sizable sums each year at large credit card banks. Mr. Lipsett says banks are entitled to the money, which is in repayment of debts, even if the institutions cannot identify which debts.

Mr. Lipsett also wears the hat of a lobbyist, traveling to Europe frequently to convince regulators to harmonize consumer credit cards.

"The idea is to allow a bank like Citicorp to effectively have a cross- European credit card business," he said. "We want to rationalize each country's rules in a way that minimizes duplicative and contradictory standards."

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