Attorney alum returns to Lawrence after resolving Lehman Brothers financial crisis

Maggie Brickner

(Photo by Minh Nguyen)

The Lawrence Scholars in Law program presented its second event Thursday, April 7, titled “Lawrence University to Lehman Brothers — A Journey.” Notable alumnus Tony Valukas ‘65 returned to campus to share the story of his career as chair and partner of Jenner & Block, a law firm with over 600 offices around the country. During his visit, he recounted his recent investigation of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008 that contributed to the recent economic recession.

During the Lehman Brothers investigation, Valukas led a team of over 200 lawyers in New York who collectively read more than 34 million pages and conducted over 250 interviews. The 2,200-page final project, which wrapped up in March 2010, was dubbed “The Valukas Report.”

According to Valukas, his investigation asked the following questions: “How and why could this have happened? Who was responsible, should it be brought against the government? Why did Lehman fail?” The bankruptcy itself was over $691 billion, more than all other bankruptcies since then combined. While the report reveals that the collapse was brought about by some dishonest business methods, there was nothing to reveal that any of their actions were illegal. Nobody was charged after the release of the report. However, he found that there were charges to be brought against the top four executives at Lehman Brothers. The decision to charge them has been left to the federal government.

“No one knew how bad the crisis was except top people within the government and those around Lehman Brothers,” said Valukas. “Even to these people, it was not evident until several months before bankruptcy was declared that this situation could lead to such a large-scale disaster.”

Valukas came to Lawrence after testifying in front of Congress the day before. Had the ways that Lehman Brothers was “fudging numbers” been more apparent, Valukas said, the government would have had 72 days instead of 72 hours to try to find a way to bail out the investment, and there would have been a “softer landing” as opposed to the collapse which came about.

While talking about his days at Lawrence, Valukas noted that among those present were some “favorite professors who stood up in front of me more than a few times, which ultimately changed the way I looked at life and the way I lived my life. Lawrence gave me an extraordinary background in a lot of things and one of the things it gave me an excellent background in issues: ethics, morality, how we conduct ourselves in our daily life even as we go forward in our professional life.”

Valukas certainly has moved forward in his professional career, having what he has called “a career to die for.”

After graduating from the Northwestern School of Law, he became a partner at Jenner & Block, the firm of which he is now chair. He has also worked for the United States Department of Justice, where he served as Assistant United States Attorney, Chief of the Special Prosecution Department and First Assistant United States Attorney.

Valukas has also worked for the state government of his home state, Illinois, where he served as special counsel to several of Chicago’s fraud investigatory programs, and United States Attorney in Chicago.

Despite his hugely successful career, he has maintained a concern for civil right issues which has interested him since his time at Lawrence. He stated: “You can be whatever you want to be and still be a person out there being concerned about civil rights, poverty and all these other issues and doing something about it.”