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.
A day in the life of... Noel Power, Associate, Dechert.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
I like to start my day with breakfast and a cup of coffee! I try and get to the gym in the morning, as getting there in the evening can never be guaranteed. On the way to the office, I review my emails so that by the time I have had breakfast I will have considered responses and can start drafting.
Much of my work is multi-jurisdictional, which means that I often wake up to overnight emails. It also means that on the other end of the working day I work late into the evening, as other jurisdictions start to wake up when people here start to think about going home. Often, calls are scheduled and urgent responses can be required at times others might think unsociable.
How do you handle, organise and prioritise your workload?
Each evening before I leave, I make a list of tasks that need to be completed and I assign dates to completion. As no two days are the same and urgent matters arise throughout the day, my pre-arranged task list gets pushed back and priorities change. It is very important to keep these lists up to date and not lose track of what needs to be done and when.
I try and delegate tasks such as research, document review, drafts of advice, etc, as much as possible to trainees or junior associates. That allows me to attend client calls, respond to emails and attack more strategic pieces of advice.
I am a fan of spreadsheets and diaries, which are excellent organisational tools. My work includes many meetings, both in person and on the phone, including client meetings; investigation progress meetings with authorities (SFO, NCA, FCA, etc); interviews with witnesses, etc. It is hugely important to avoid clashes in so far as possible. If a client trusts you with their business, they expect that you can manage your own time. That said, everyone recognises the need to be flexible and urgent matters must be dealt with. Having a good team who can step up when an urgent request comes in is an invaluable asset. At Dechert, I am very lucky to be part of an extremely collegiate and experienced team, where people are always ready and willing to interrupt their day to help colleagues.
What sort of daily responsibilities does an associate have in white collar crime law? How do these differ from a trainee?
White collar crime involves a huge amount of fact-gathering. The majority of the work is criminal defence and investigations, although discrete tasks can include advising on company’s anti-bribery and corruption compliance policies and procedures. At its most basic, the work of a white collar criminal lawyer involves uncovering the facts and creating a narrative. In order to do this, much groundwork is required involving document review and interviews with witnesses and suspects.
On large-scale investigations, we usually have a team of people reviewing documents and drafting analyses. That involves reading emails and documents, and sometimes listening to recordings of persons of interest. The findings are drawn together and the interesting and relevant documents are reviewed by senior members of the team, as a picture is created of what happened that has caused the client to be in the predicament they find themselves. As emails are generally toneless, it is important that we find out the background: what the emails meant; why they were sent; and why they were sent to particular persons. In order to do this, we interview the people involved.
Once we finish the investigation part of the process, work begins on drafting reports, factual analyses, witness statements, presentations to regulators and, where required, defence case statements and proofs for court proceedings.
At my level as an associate, one of my roles is to supervise trainees during their seat in white collar. I try and involve the Dechert trainees in all aspects of the investigation process and they often accompany me to client meetings, interviews and presentations. I think it is hugely important for trainees to understand the broad swathe of work involved in these matters, and that includes partaking in all tasks.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?
Generally, the type of investigations I do are large-scale and multi-jurisdictional involving agencies including the SFO, FCA and NCA in the UK; the PNF in France; and the DOJ and SEC in the US. These investigations usually involve the ingestion of huge quantities of information from document review and interviews. Multi-faceted strategies are required to deal with disclosures to the authorities. Much of the work is high profile and has a public-interest element, so additional considerations need to be made when making any disclosures that could appear in the morning’s news. Social-media platforms have become invaluable as a source of up-to-date news and information. However, in the era of “fake news” in which we currently find ourselves, traditional forms of verification are ever-more important. In a recent parliamentary enquiry in which a client was involved, it was interesting to see how disclosures were appearing on Twitter even before being considered by the investigating committee!
At the moment, I am representing an individual accused of bribery. He has already been tried. However, as the jury were unable to reach a verdict, the prosecuting authority has decided to re-try him. The stakes for a retrial can be higher, as the prosecution has the opportunity to fill any gaps they missed in the first trial. Representing individuals is much more emotionally charged than companies, particularly in this case where both the client’s reputation and liberty are at stake.
My work is incredibly varied and interesting: in one particular week recently, I was in a north African country talking about fertilisers; in France speaking to people about airplanes; and in London discussing the locomotive industry.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
My work is split between acting on behalf of companies and individuals. The individuals are most often senior executives of companies facing personal criminal liability for actions in the course of their employment. We engage early with the authorities but ultimately, if there is sufficient evidence available, it can result in fully defending proceedings in court.
The company work usually involves investigations brought by government agencies such as the SFO, NCA or FCA for bribery, corruption or money laundering. This can be very intricate work, and keeping on top of the detail is hugely important. It requires the lawyer to become almost an expert in the area at issue. If you spend 18 months preparing to defend a commodities trader, you need to understand trading in great detail. It is incredibly interesting work and gives you viewpoints on life other people rarely see.
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.