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Stephen Hibbard is a partner in the Litigation Department and a member of the Securities Litigation, Asset Management Litigation, and White Collar & Investigations groups.

A highly regarded complex commercial and securities litigator with more than 30 years of experience, Steve represents financial institutions, companies, and individuals in commercial litigation, securities class actions, merger & acquisition litigation, derivative actions, and corporate governance disputes. He routinely represents clients in regulatory or internal investigations, and regularly advises public companies on fiduciary duty and disclosure issues.

Steve has led the defense of dozens of headline-making and high-profile matters from cryptocurrency to cyber-security, from fintech to greentech, and from the housing mortgage crisis to the age of digital assets and AI. Buyers, sellers, and financial advisors have relied on him in merger litigation, including in dozens of technology company mergers.

Steve has also handled complex litigation matters involving corporate finance, accounting, antitrust, defamation, copyright, tax, employment, RICO, and unfair business practices claims for businesses in a wide range of industries including investment banking, commercial banking, venture capital, private equity, asset management, biotech, pharmaceuticals, hardware, semiconductors, software, and sports leagues and teams.

Adviser-led secondary transactions have seen explosive growth over the last five years.  That growth has brought increased regulatory concerns over the conflicts of interests inherent in these transactions and a perceived lack of transparency into this market.  New SEC rules adopted in 2023 will arm regulators with additional tools to identify, exam and investigate market practices.  It is therefore critical for managers running an adviser-led secondary transaction to not only comply with the new rules as they become effective but to structure any such transaction with the SEC’s concerns in mind. 

2023’s excitement for generative artificial intelligence (AI) prompted the SEC to respond on multiple fronts – stump speeches, rulemaking, new exam priorities and sweeps and previewing potential enforcement actions. SEC Chair Gary Gensler raised concerns regarding potential conflicts and investor harm resulting from the proliferation of AI and warned that an AI-caused financial crisis is nearly unavoidable absent regulation. The SEC adopted a number of initiatives in 2023 to respond to these perceived risks. 

ESG continues to be a hot topic for 2024 for investors and regulators alike. The specific concerns investors and regulators have – and what they expect to develop over the coming months – differ, however, across jurisdictions, including because of the different maturity of existing regulation between the EU/UK and the US.

Economic headwinds and the interest rate environment that developed over the course of 2023 increased financial stress on portfolio companies and portend heightened litigation risk in 2024 for portfolio companies and their private fund sponsors. Specifically, interest rate increases that accelerated through 2022 continued in 2023, and compounded existing economic stressors including tight liquidity and inflation coming out of 2020 and 2021, as well as increased cost and other burdens related to ESG and regulatory compliance. These pressures put portfolio companies in often unsustainable financial positions, causing them to prematurely seek liquidity events, violate debt covenants with lenders, and resort to bankruptcy, all of which has led to an increase in disputes and litigation, which we expect to continue in 2024.

In a wave of SEC rulemaking this past year, representing a “new world order” event akin to Dodd-Frank, the SEC has provided itself with a fresh set of tools to increase regulatory and enforcement scrutiny on private funds. Among other things, certain of the rules could result in fundamental changes to market practices and greater disclosure to LPs. While ongoing litigation will determine the fates of the Private Fund Adviser Rules, the Short Sale Disclosure Rule, and the Securities Lending Rule, and while other rules are awaiting final adoption, the SEC concerns underlying the rulemaking will continue regardless.   

To understand the litigation and regulatory risks that are coming in 2024 for private capital, it is helpful to look back briefly on recent events. Arguably, the single most important event over the last 18 months was the rapid increase in interest rates by the central banks in the United States, England, and Europe. From March 2022 to August 2023, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates at the fastest clip in more than 40 years, to break inflation that had reached the highest levels since the 1970s.