It’ll Be All White…
White collar crime doesn’t just boil down to a murder mystery involving a suit. Rather, white collar crime is non-violent, and refers to financial crimes such as fraud, bribery, embezzlement and money laundering, that are committed by businesses and governments.
What Does White Collar Crime Law Involve?
Lawyers who specialise in white collar crime will see themselves defending clients through an investigation, including civil and criminal litigation. Clients typically range from large corporations and banks, to individuals prominent in business and politics.
Lawyers will need to be in-the-know about regulations affecting these types of organisations, as well as having a vast and in-depth knowledge surrounding the business operations of their clients. Only then can they come up with strategies and resolutions.
Lawyers in this area can offer their clients top-notch legal advice on how to comply with complex governmental legislation and with investigations carried out by enforcement agencies. Lawyers will assist the client in resolving critical concerns, which can include disclosing potentially jeopardising findings or waiving privileges. Obviously, the main aim is always to resolve issues before charges are brought and to avoid future liability.
Break It Down For Me A Little Bit…
White collar crime is the term associated with a range of different crimes.
Fraud boils down to deceiving someone for monetary gain. A common type of white collar fraud is securities fraud, which comes in all shapes and sizes. However, ‘insider trading’ is where someone with a nugget of confidential inside knowledge about a company (such as upcoming earnings) trades on that information. Therefore, if an earnings report is set to hurt the company and an executive sells their stocks before this is made public, this would be securities fraud. Another type of white collar fraud is where someone or a company gains money based on knowingly false information, such as prospects or finances.
Embezzlement is where money is improperly taken from someone whom you owe some type of duty. For example, lawyers who improperly use client funds can be guilty of embezzlement.
Tax evasion is also a common white collar crime. This one does exactly what it says on the tin and involves an individual or company evading taxes. They could transfer properties in order to avoid tax, or they could knowingly provide false information to the taxman.
Finally, money laundering is the means of filtering illegally obtained money through transactions to make it appear legitimate. Just think about Walter White’s car wash, where he funnels illegal drug money through his bonnet and windscreen shining side-business.
Jonathan Pickworth is a partner at Dechert LLP, specialising in White Collar Crime law. His typical working day may involve meeting with clients or investigatory bodies such as the Serious Fraud Office. With “the livelihoods, reputations and wealth of the clients at stake”, White Collar Crime law is an exciting area to specialise in!
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
I usually arrive at the office between 8 and 8.30am. By the time I have reached the office I will usually be up to speed with emails received overnight about developments on my matters. I then try to use the first hour and half of the day as ‘quiet time’ to work on the more difficult pieces of advice or to review in depth the evidence on one of my investigations.
How do you handle and organise/prioritise your workload?
I try to plan my day in advance, but I have to make sure I keep abreast of new information and instructions coming in by email or telephone throughout the day on a fairly constant basis. My team and I also have to be prepared to drop everything at a moment’s notice in the event of a major development on any of my matters (such as an arrest or a raid). This sometimes throws my plans for the day out of the window.
I keep on top of email traffic throughout the evening after leaving the office, but it is important to get some clear time each day if possible to free my mind. I am a keen cyclist and try to cycle to and from work as often as I can. This not only helps me to keep fit, but gives me a proper chance to clear my head. In fact, I find that I have some of my best ideas when I am out of the office rather than when I am sitting at my desk.
What sort of daily responsibilities does an associate or partner have in white collar crime law? How do these differ from a trainee?
I will normally have several meetings during the course of a working day. This can be with clients to take their instructions or to give advice; or it might be with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) or Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to discuss progress on an investigation. In more complicated cases, and certainly when a prosecution is being contemplated by the agency in question, then my team and I will work closely with a senior barrister (a QC) from the criminal bar. Throughout the day, I will also have a steady stream of enquiries from associates coming by my office to talk about particular tasks they are involved in.
It is vitally important to have a good team and I am fortunate to have an excellent one around me. We have plenty of very well qualified and experienced associates who are able to take responsibility for significant aspects of the various matters on a day to day basis. One of the critical skills for any associate is to understand when to come and seek guidance. I am very lucky to be able to trust completely the associates I work with to make those judgement calls correctly.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
I generally defend companies who are facing investigation by government agencies such as the SFO, the FCA or HM Revenue and Customs for matters such as bribery and corruption, accounting fraud and money laundering, and insider trading. In addition, I often represent senior executives of such companies who themselves may face personal criminal liability.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?
The investigations work on behalf of companies or banks tends to be very substantial. Indeed the more substantial investigations tend to span both sides of the Atlantic, involving agencies such as the US Department of Justice or SEC as well as the UK authorities. These investigations require a detailed review of a huge amount of documents, combined with strategic considerations about how to behave in order to best protect the company and its shareholders in the light of any wrongdoing that may have or is alleged to have happened. The work for the individual defendants is different. In particular, it tends to be much more emotionally intensive. Not only are the livelihoods, reputations and wealth of the clients at stake, but also their liberty. There is a lot at stake.
Claire Donnelly is a trainee solicitor at Dechert, undertaking a seat in white collar crime.
In just a few words, could you explain what exactly white collar crime law entails?
White collar crime law is essentially financial crimes, and this includes bribery, fraud, corruption, insider trading, and money laundering. White collar crime lawyers will typically advise companies facing criminal investigations by government enforcement agencies such as the Serious Fraud Office, the Financial Conduct Authority or HMRC; defend senior executives of companies who face personal criminal liability for their role in white collar offences; and advise clients on their anti-corruption and compliance procedures.
Why did you choose this seat?
Dechert’s white collar crime team is a leading financial crime practice in London and I was keen to work on some of the high profile and complex investigations that the group are involved in. I was aware that in the years following the financial crisis, UK regulators have taken a tough stance on fraud, bribery and financial crimes, and so I thought it would be an interesting seat with varied work.
What kind of projects have you been working on so far?
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on projects involving both corporate and individual clients. I have worked on corporate investigations into companies who are the subject of investigations by the SFO, which has given me an insight into the strategies and planning that is involved where there is alleged wrongdoing by a corporate client. A highlight of my seat has been working on the defence case for an individual charged with bribery and corruption.
How does this seat compare with others you have completed?
The investigatory work on behalf of companies can be substantial and during the course of an investigation, a vast amount of information can be uncovered. These investigations require a review of a huge volume of documentation and, as a trainee in the department, I have had an opportunity to get involved in this detective-type work. Due to the fact-based nature of the investigations, an ability to keep up to speed with the facts as they develop is an essential skill in a white collar seat.
I have found that unlike in other seats where I worked across a very wide number of matters simultaneously, during my seat in white collar I have worked on a handful of matters but in much greater depth. This is inevitable due to the scale of the investigations that Dechert are involved in and provides an opportunity to gain detailed knowledge of the clients, their businesses and the industries they operate in.
A white collar seat provides many opportunities for contact with clients, including preparing for and attending interviews with clients and their employees, who are the subject of investigation; and attending calls with clients to update them on the progress of investigations.
Does your work put you in direct contact with clients?
Yes. When defending a client under investigation for white collar offences, it is typical to have a large number of meetings and briefing sessions with the client to build the defence case. At these meetings, I was encouraged to partake in interviewing the client, which was a great opportunity to develop this skill. It is also common that clients who are facing investigations are required to attend interviews with enforcement agencies and I have been involved in attending these meetings to take attendance notes. On large corporate investigations, there are frequent meetings and calls with the client to discuss the progress of the investigation and to update the client on any developments.
How do you deal with potentially sensitive cases?
White collar work is a particularly sensitive area due to the potentially damaging allegations that can be uncovered in the course of an investigation. There is a heightened awareness in a white collar department of document management and security which can include locking offices each night and being conscious about not bringing confidential documents outside the office.