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Bank of America's Last, Best Hope

"With many law enforcement people, it's kick 'em and, you know, that's it: put 'em out of business," Sporkin says "That impressed me, that he was willing to work with companies and not look at it only with a law enforcement mentality."

That style was in marked contrast to that of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who also led the criminal cases against Milken and Boesky as the U.S. Attorney for New York's Southern District. Giuliani favored attention-getting tactics like having federal agents escort Wall Street executives out of their offices in handcuffs. In at least one instance, the charges were eventually dropped, according to a 2007 report by Bloomberg News..

Gary Lynch as a young bank watchdog.

Friends of Lynch say he has always favored a low-key approach.

"In my professional life, to include the 7 years I served as an officer in the Marine Corps, there is no one I hold in higher regard than Gary Lynch when it comes to character and integrity," says Pat Patalino, who worked for Lynch at Davis Polk, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley, before taking his current job as general counsel of Baron Capital.

Character and integrity is certainly something Bank of America would like to have in its corner at the moment, as it has so far been unsuccessful in assuring investors it has a handle on mortgage-related legal headaches, many of them the legacy of its 2008 acquisition of Countrywide Financial.

"I don't know of anyone that's been particularly impressed with how Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan has been running the company," says Gary Townsend, portfolio manager and founder at Hill Townsend Capital, which owns Bank of America shares on the theory that they are too cheap to pass up.

"Now that they need someone to advise the general counsel--maybe they do. It suggests to me that maybe the general counsel is deficient in some particular, but perhaps this guy is going to be more of a lobbyist with people that he knows quite well, and can be an effective advocate for Bank of America in dealing with attorneys general and other constituencies," Townsend says.

Advocacy certainly is something Lynch brings to the table, according to John Coffee, securities law professor at Columbia University.

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