Legal Briefing: Credit Ratings Agencies Won't Defend Their Bond Ratings

A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

Credit Raters' Fears Freeze Some Bond Markets

Well look at that: Now that credit ratings agencies can be sued for issuing inflated ratings, they're refusing to allow their ratings to be used to sell bonds, reports The Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, since some types of bonds are required to have such ratings, those parts of the bond market are shutting down, with no new issuances in the asset-backed bond market this week, down from $3 billion last week.

The ratings agencies have been one of the major targets of blame for the financial meltdown, deservedly so considering what their emails and documents revealed. They're already facing lawsuits charging that their ratings were fraudulent. Prior to the financial reform law's enactment, however, the only suits that could go forward were ones based on state law: Federal law protected them from liability. With their sudden refusal to let the bond market use their ratings, they're implicitly conceding plaintiffs' claims: Their ratings can't be trusted.

After all, if they could, the agencies wouldn't have to worry about lawsuits over the ratings.

The Next Wave of BP Suits: Sick Clean Up Workers

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports that a Louisiana fisherman hospitalized after doing oil spill cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico has filed suit against BP seeking medical monitoring for cleanup workers and volunteers, noting that the injurious health effects of exposure to the oil, dispersants, smoke and other spill hazards can take years to develop.

Goldman-SEC Settlement Approved by the Judge

U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones approved the Goldman Sachs-SEC settlement, reports Bloomberg, closing what is apparently only the first chapter in the saga of enhanced SEC enforcement in the wake of the financial meltdown. The New York Times reports that more cases are coming down the pike.

And in the Business of Law...

The Vault's prestige rankings of law firms are out, and the top three companies are: Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz; Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP; and Sullivan & Cromwell. Sullivan climbed one spot from last year to get into the top three; Wachtell and Cravath repeated their 2009 performance as the two most prestigious firms this year. New York firms claim eight of the top ten spots, with Williams & Connolly LLP and Covington & Burling LLP, both of Washington D.C., claiming the eighth and tenth spots, respectively.

• Corporate Counsel reports that in-house attorneys' compensation took a big hit last year, particularly bonuses, with cash bonuses dropping nearly 40%.

• At least the in-house counsel have jobs; another measure of the punishing job market that new law graduates will face is the decline in summer associate positions this year. AmLaw Daily's survey found a 44% decline in the size of summer associate classes this year.