Nicole Iannarone: Shedding Light on Consumer Experiences in Self-regulated Industries
Scholarship by Professor Nicole Iannarone
Growing up in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Professor Nicole Iannarone witnessed first-hand how differently resourced groups were impacted by supposedly neutral rules and structures. Engaging in debate, mock trial, and anything related to the law, Iannarone discovered how representation can help equalize application of law and legal processes, which eventually led her to law school and a legal career.
Iannarone’s focus is on ensuring fairness for regular people who have a dispute with their stockbroker. Most Americans are now responsible for their own retirements, and those who seek professional help sometimes receive bad advice from a stockbroker. Because brokerage agreements generally require arbitration, a process often described as a black box due to its opacity, many investors are wary of how they will be treated when a self-regulated entity, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), oversees the forum. “Regular investors worry that the cards are going to be stacked against them,” said Iannarone. “But the rare transparency of the FINRA arbitration forum—though not as transparent as court—provides us a unique window from which to investigate what happens to regular investors in that forum.”
Iannarone and co-author Professor Charlotte Alexander have text-mined FINRA’s arbitration awards to begin an evaluation of how consumer investors fare in the forum. Their article “Winning, Defined? Text-Mining Arbitration Decisions” uses legal analytics methodologies to describe investors’ results. Rather than a binary monetary recovery/no monetary recovery measure, they discovered that investors often obtain multiple results in the forum—including multiple elements of win, loss, and/or voluntary settlement—and described a more textured experience in the forum and outcome measurement tools. As their work continues, they are investigating the factors that influence consumer investor results in the FINRA forum.
Iannarone recently conducted research to evaluate whether FINRA’s focus on diversifying its arbitrator pool resulted in new entrants deciding regular investors’ disputes. Iannarone, who is Mexican American, recognizes the importance of diverse decision-makers in ensuring trust in dispute resolution processes.
To assess whether FINRA’s laudable efforts to diversify its arbitrator pool resulted in inclusion, Iannarone reviewed FINRA arbitrator qualification rules and participant decision points and theorized that they might serve as barriers preventing new entrants from presiding over small customers’ claims. Working with a number of Kline Law students, she empirically assessed the hypothesis, reviewing hundreds of FINRA customer arbitration awards alongside student fellows. This work, Iannarone says, “couldn’t have been accomplished without the ingenuity Kline Law exhibited in creating student research fellowships in response to the pandemic and the students’ intellectual curiosity and commitment to serving real people.” The results of Iannarone’s summer project will be published in the Washington Law Review.
In addition to her research interests in the consumer experience at FINRA, Iannarone is actively engaged at the policy level. She serves as a public member of FINRA’s National Arbitration and Mediation Committee, which investigates and recommends changes to the FINRA arbitration process. She also serves on the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Public Policy Council. Service to the profession has been a large part of Iannarone’s career. Immediately prior to joining Kline Law, she served as President of the Atlanta Bar Association and chaired the State Bar of Georgia’s Professionalism Committee.