Most banking lawyers hope to try at least a single headline-grabbing case during their careers.
Not Ronald Stevens. The partner at the Washington law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart has litigated three in the past year alone.
"I love what I do," Mr. Stevens said. "I work on cases where the law is not settled. You can't find a precedent in a law book. You are forced to use your imagination. That is as good as it gets for a lawyer."
Mr. Stevens now is pressing Glendale Federal Bank's goodwill lawsuit before the Federal Claims Court. Glendale charges that the government owes it at least $1.5 billion for breaching its agreement to let the California thrift count regulatory goodwill as capital for 40 years.
The goodwill trial started just a few months after Mr. Stevens had successfully challenged the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s policy of suing directors and officers for simple negligence.
The Supreme Court ruled in January that the FDIC may only bring simple negligence cases in states that specifically allow such suits. A study by Mr. Stevens' firm had found only four states that allow simple negligence suits. In the remaining states, the agency must bring gross negligence charges, which are harder to prove.
Mr. Stevens said he spent weeks getting ready for the high-court argument. "This was probably my only chance to argue before the Supreme Court," he said. "I wanted to be fully prepared. I kept saying that maybe I'll get my butt kicked, but at least it will be by the Supremes."
Some of the preparation was for naught. Mr. Stevens only got one paragraph into his 12-page prepared statement before the justices cut him off and started asking questions.
Mr. Stevens also made headlines last summer as Long Beach Mortgage Co.'s lead lawyer. The lender and the Justice Department nearly went to trial over charges that Long Beach was responsible for fair-lending violations by independent mortgage brokers.
At the last minute, however, the two sides settled. Long Beach agreed to spend $4 million to compensate borrowers and educate consumers. But the lender maintained that it was not responsible for the activities of independent brokers.
Mr. Stevens became a banking lawyer by accident. He clerked in the District of Columbia Superior Court for a year after graduating from the University of Virginia law school in 1972. He then joined Hill, Christopher & Phillips in Washington. That firm merged with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in 1981.
"Banking law wasn't even something I knew existed," he said.
One of his first cases required him to represent Wachovia Corp. against the National Student Marketing Corp., which was accused of defrauding investors by using faulty accounting techniques. That led him into a series of securities fraud cases during the next six years.
His big break came in 1979 when he began representing the Federal Home Loan Bank System. In one 1982 case, he defended the Federal Home Bank of San Francisco, which was accused of causing a thrift to fail by refusing to extend it credit.
His work for the Home Loan banks brought him in contact with numerous top thrift executives, many of whom ended up hiring him in the late 1980s as hundreds of thrifts failed across the country.