2023 Fund Director Award Nominees: Independent Counsel of the Year

Lawyers from Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Ropes & Gray, Practus and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett vie for prize honoring outstanding fund-board guidance.

The Mutual Fund & ETF Awards – which recognize the best examples of performance, innovation, marketing and growth in fund industry – are coming back to New York on June 15, 2023.

Winners will be announced at an evening ceremony at 583 Park Ave.

We are proud to present the shortlist of nominated luminaries in each of four categories:

Below you’ll find short descriptions of our nominees being recognized for excellence in counseling fund boards:

Independent Counsel of the Year

Ben Haskin and Neesa Patel Sood, Willkie Farr & Gallagher

Benjamin J. Haskin and Neesa Patel Sood, both partners in the Asset Management practice of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, were nominated jointly for their work advising the independent directors/trustees of Delaware Funds by Macquarie, for which they have served as independent counsel since 2022.

Trustees nominating them said that both Haskin and Sood have been diligent and effective in advising trustees on routine regulatory challenges and a range of more unusual situations including a series of internal reorganizations, the repurposing and liquidation of funds, third-party M&A activity involving closed-end funds and the challenge of navigating shareholder-activist challenges to the authority of the board itself.

Their insight, experience and ability to work effectively with the board helped the board navigate complex situations and improve the board’s ability to handle issues of policy, reporting and fund governance, according to the nomination.

Haskin is an investment-management attorney who works with investment advisers, hedge-fund managers and the trustees of mutual funds and ETFs. He is a member of the editorial board of The Investment Lawyer and former chair of the Investment Management Committee of the D.C. Bar. He has been at Willkie since 2004; he left a partnership at K&L Gates, where he worked for 12 years after leaving a stint as a consultant at Bain & Co. He writes frequently on ESG, and changes in reporting, disclosure and fund governance required by changes in SEC regulations and enforcement practices relevant to fund trustees.

Sood has been a partner since January 2009 at Willkie, which she joined as counsel in 2009. She counsels registered funds and fund-board members on regulatory, governance, operational and transaction-related issues, including the structure and launch of registered funds and new products, to which she brings considerable transactional experience. She was named a “Rising Star” by Fund Directions‘ sister publication Fund Intelligence in 2021; her work was included in a National Law Journal article on Willkie insights into ESG issues related to the investment industry.

John Loder, Ropes & Gray

John Loder is a partner in the asset management group at Ropes & Gray LLP, where he has worked since 1984. Loder advises investment-management clients and fund boards on issues including the organization of advisory firms’ investment funds; he represents and advises the boards of more than 500 open-ended funds, closed-end funds and ETFs on M&A activity, governance, regulatory, compliance and enforcement issues.

He has served as fund and/or independent-trustee counsel for American Century Funds, Dodge and Cox Funds, Columbia Funds, PNC Funds, Schwab Funds & ETFs and Loomis Sayles Funds, among others.

Recent projects included assisting Northern Trust Co. in developing the new Datum One Series Trust mutual-fund platform, which is designed to help investment advisory firms outside the U.S. enter the U.S. market efficiently. He also advised Natixis on the addition of active, non-transparent ETFs and advised ProShares on the first Bitcoin futures mutual fund in 2021.

He is trustee and vice chairman of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and trustee for the New England Conservatory.

Karen Aspinall, Practus, LLP

Los Angeles-based Karen Aspinall is a partner and Financial Services practice-area chair for Practus, LLP, where she has worked since 2020 after spending a decade at asset-management firm Pacific Investment Management Company LLC (PIMCO), which she left in 2020 as executive VP and deputy general counsel. She previously held positions at Nuveen Investments, Morgan Lewis & Bockius and Dechert, LLP.

Aspinall is an authority on regulatory compliance issues involving the SEC, Dep. Of Labor, CFTC and NFA. She has experience in SEC examinations as well as regulatory issues, including cross trades and liquidity risk management and contract negotiation.

She writes frequently about SEC examination risk alerts, examination priorities and CRS disclosures.

Rajib Chanda, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP

Rajib Chanda is Washington, D.C. administrative partner and head of the Registered Funds practice at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, where he has worked since 2014, advising fund boards and representing the interests of asset management firms on M&A activities, new-product development and the structure of investment products. He has been nominated for Fund Directions‘ Independent Counsel of the Year four times; he won the award in 2018.

He has served as the firm’s hiring partner, co-chaired the firm’s diversity committee, co-chaired its partner-development committee and has represented asset-management firms including Blackstone, Carlyle, JPMorgan Asset Management, KKR, PIMCO and SkyBridge Capital.

He is a member of the Advisory Board at the Mutual Fund Directors Forum and regularly teaches professional-development courses at the Practicing Law Institute on topics that, during 2022, included in-depth discussion of SEC regulatory changes, business trends in asset-management, productive interaction and negotiation with SEC staff and best practices in dealing with SEC enforcement efforts.

Introduction: Trustee of the Year