Securities litigator Christopher J. Keller has moved into the chairmanship of Labaton Sucharow, replacing veteran managing partner Lawrence Sucharow, the plaintiffs firm announced Wednesday.

After more than 20 years serving in top leadership posts at the firm, Sucharow is now chairman emeritus.

Keller, who joined Labaton in 2000, became co-chairman of the securities and antitrust class actions firm in December 2017, as part of a planned leadership transition. He took the helm as Labaton’s only chair Jan. 1.

Firm Changeover

Sucharow has been with the firm for more than 40 years, and has served as both managing partner and chairman or co-chair. The firm’s other name partner, Edward Labaton, remains at the firm as a partner.

Keller, 48, who headed the firm’s case development group since 2003, has helped Labaton land lead counsel roles in some large securities matters that arose out of the 2008 financial crisis, including the $624 million settlement against Countrywide Financial Corp., one of the country’s largest mortgage lenders.

In addition to its flourishing practice in securities class actions, Labaton in recent years has added a thriving whistleblower practice with former top federal securities enforcers.

“We have been planting seeds, including the whistleblower program, that are outside of litigation. Last year, we had the largest award, of $83 million, from that program,” Keller told Bloomberg Law.

The 70-lawyer firm is also focusing on individual representation of banks and insurance companies in lawsuits— which it calls its direct action practice— in addition to its class action practice, Keller said.

Legal Challenges

Keller is taking the reins at a time when Labaton has been in the spotlight over how it and other firms track down plaintiffs for large-scale class actions, particularly around securities and consumer fraud.

Labaton recently had to grapple with accusations that it failed to disclose representation details in a consumer fraud class action involving the Arkansas Teachers Retirement System. The firm’s relationship with Damon Chargois, a Houston lawyer involved in connecting the firm with the teachers’ group, came under legal challenge.

The challenge stemmed from three class actions brought against Boston-based State Street Bank and Trust Company, alleging unfair and deceptive practices in connection with fees charged on foreign exchange transactions. The case was settled for $300 million, with $75 million specified for attorneys’ fees, but it emerged later that Labaton had made undisclosed payments to Chargois to find plaintiffs for the lawsuit.

To settle the matter, Labaton agreed to pay $4.8 million in legal fees to plaintiffs and other involved law firms, and hired a former federal judge to review its work and implement best practices involving referral payments. Last week, Labaton submitted a report by retired judge Garrett Brown who reviewed the firm’s settlements in more than 300 cases. None of those settlements had the kind of referral fee that had been at issue in the State Street case, according to Labaton, which called that fee a “unique outlier.”

Labaton has agreed not to use such referral arrangements in any of its cases going forward.