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Louis Freeh on law, Pittsburgh and more

Pittsburgh Business Times June 19, 2013

Louis Freeh is here, there and everywhere — coming up with the liquidation plan for brokerage MF Global Holdings’ bankruptcy two weeks ago, heading to Ireland next month for Mercyhurst University’s Global Intelligence Forum.

Wednesday, “here” was Pittsburgh for the former FBI director who oversaw Penn State’s internal investigation into the Jerry Sandusky scandal last summer. Freeh has another role that his past and present activities often overshadow: He became executive chairman of Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP in February. Pepper Hamilton’s Pittsburgh office is the city’s 17th-largest. Here’s Freeh on how it all comes together.

Your law firm, Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, merged into Pepper Hamilton last fall. How did this come about?

September of last year, we had the 15 lawyers in our firm come into Pepper Hamilton. Then our investigative consulting group, the Freeh Group International Solutions, was acquired by Pepper; it’s run separately and independently and we do in that space a lot of investigative work, a lot of compliance, due diligence and forensic consulting. I sit as chair of the Freeh Group. It’s a unique combination. As far as we know, there’s not another law firm that’s combined with an investigative consulting group and it’s been very synergistic for us. We can leverage everything as needed in a one-stop shopping model that’s cost-efficient.

Does Freeh Group have Pittsburgh clients?

We have a couple we’re working with. We’d like to do a lot more. We want to focus on the ability to delivery high quality investigative services, particularly in the IT and IP areas. In forensic accounting, we would do work that would go to the Big Four and outside institutions.

What’s your role of executive chairman at Pepper Hamilton entail?

I oversee the operations as well as the financials of the firm. We have a very strong, very long-term executive committee and I have two vice chairs. We have a full-time CEO and a managing partner and a CFO. We meet on a monthly basis. So it’s all the things you handle at the top for a 535-lawyer firm, but I also do my practice area. I still have time to do the things I need to do. I did a bankruptcy trusteeship that just finished. I have clients. It’s a very nice combination: Most of my administrative responsibilities can be shared and delegated.

Pepper opened its downtown office in the 1990s. How do you interface with Pittsburgh?

I come into Pittsburgh a couple times a year for two reasons. One is we have a very important part of our practice here. Secondly, my wife is from Pittsburgh and her family still lives here, so we come here on a pretty regular basis. I could tell you all about the restaurants, schools and parks, and all the important data.

You’re the speaker at Mercyhurst University’s Global Intelligence Conference July 7-10 and part of the agenda is data mining and the National Security Agency. What do you have to say about the NSA?

It goes back really to our Founding Fathers, and I often cite the example of Benjamin Franklin, who was famous for saying when you balance liberty and security, it’s a very delicate balance. If you have too much of one, it’s a problem. Balancing privacy, liberty and the need to protect our country are important concerns. We have a lot of legislation, presidential orders, congressional directives that permit our security agencies as well as our law enforcement agencies to collect data. That means phone A called phone B at this time on X date and server A talked to server B on Y date. Mining that data and analyzing it for security purposes and to make sure that these agencies are able to protect the country and its people in the most robust way is very important and that’s what the debate is about. The answer I always give is that most Americans aren’t aware that there’s more personal information about them, hard copy and electronic, in the three to four credit agencies — what books you buy online, where you vacation, what car you drive. That’s not data mining, that’s data collecting. The government, in discussion with the NSA, it’s not about content.

You oversaw the Penn State’s internal investigation into the Jerry Sandusky scandal and that report was issued last summer. The family of the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, released its own report earlier this year. Do you have any comment on that or the Penn State situation?

I made a brief statement when the family released their report. There are a lot of pending matters in court, so I’ve decided not to publicly comment further.

Back to Pepper Hamilton. What are you looking to achieve?

I’m a newcomer to the firm but what we want to do collectively as a leadership team is to maintain the very strong, high-value lawyering. We’re building our West Coast office in Los Angeles. We’ve added substantial white collar assets to our New York office. We want to maintain what we’re doing well and grow our national practice. We want to be sure we’re competitive with larger and smaller firms so we can get the meetings and consideration when there are complicated security cases on Wall Street. And with the Freeh Group, we want to make sure we use its investigative, compliance, due diligence and crisis management capabilities to fix problems with the expertise we find within the deep bench at Pepper.