The biggest business issue confronting the white-collar criminal practitioner is getting paid. It’s trickier in the white-collar world than in other practice areas for a few reasons.
First, normally you’re representing an individual. People normally have less money than companies.
Second, many people who commit crimes to get money do it because they don’t have money to begin with. That includes money to pay you.
Third, if a potential client made money through whatever conduct landed them in a criminal case, the Supreme Court just held that now it’s easier for the government to take that money away from them so they can’t pay you.
As the Chief Justice summarized what the Court did, in dissent,
We have held… that the Government may effectively remove a defendant’s primary weapon of defense — the attorney he selects and trusts — by freezing assets he needs to pay his lawyer. That ruling is not at issue. But today the Court goes further, holding that a defendant may be hobbled in this way without an opportunity to challenge the Government’s decision to freeze those needed assets.
I’ve represented a decent number of people who have been accused of fraud.
Some folks who are accused of fraud are really truly unambiguously guilty. They were presented with an open cookie jar, they thought no one was looking, and they took a cookie (metaphorically). They were presented with a morality test and they just didn’t pass.
Like Glenn Frey teaches us in Smuggler’s Blues, “It’s the lure of easy money; it’s got a very strong appeal.”
Other cases have a lot more nuance.
Most federal prosecutors, I find, tend to see cases as not terribly nuanced. They tend to think that each case is a morality test. Once you get the facts figured out, for the typical AUSA, the moral judgments follow pretty quickly.
My sense, though, is that the world is almost always less clear and clean, even when you have all the facts.
With that background, I read with interest James Surowiecki’s piece — “Do the Hustle” — in the New Yorker a few weeks ago about America and its con men. (And, yeah, I know, it was a few weeks ago. You finish the New Yorker right when it comes out? I didn’t think so.).
Most of the Eastern Seaboard is buried under a snowstorm today. Yet, a deeper, harder freeze is finally lifting.
For too long now, the federal government has been living with sequestration. Agencies have seen their budgets frozen or cut. At the same time that the private sector market for lawyers has contracted, getting a job as a lawyer in the federal government has been incredibly hard. It’s been winter in the federal employment world.
You have to get clients. You have to know how to help them with their legal needs.
You have to know the law, and know how to work appropriately with other lawyers (the ones who have interests aligned with your clients, adverse to your clients, and in that funny other space where you aren’t really sure yet).
And, at some point in your career, you also have to figure out how to get someone to pay you for doing this work for your clients.
If you’re trying to build a white-collar practice, it can be daunting to figure out how to do these things. Happily, there are a few places that can help (with the knowing the law, helping clients with their legal needs, and knowing how to work with other lawyers problems – the getting clients and getting paid problems less so).
Perhaps you also have a strong pressing need to go out of town where you can have all the fun of both missing your family and increasing the chance that you’ll be attacked by bedbugs.
If so, you’re in luck! The white-collar world has not one, but two great conferences (and one of them is coming up soon).
My take on which are the must-attend conferences of the white-collar world is after the jump.
It’s a lamentable fact that very few white-collar cases in federal court go to trial. Most plead. Many of those that plead also involve someone providing evidence to the government against someone else; the people involved cooperate (or flip, or snitch, depending on who is talking about what happened).
White-collar cases, at least after an indictment, are often litigated with an eye toward the sentence that will come out at the end. And, with significant sentences in white-collar cases, that makes sense.
Most people plead rather than go to trial because a plea generally locks in some certainty about what will happen at sentencing. (True, in a world where the sentencing guidelines are discretionary, a judge may have a lot of power to decide a sentence that defeats a party’s expectations, but, generally, either by creative use of a statutory maximum — the government agreeing to make certain recommendations — or the simple fact that pleading guilty is a recognition that you aren’t going to spend a lot of the judge’s time sitting in trial, a plea can give a reason to think that the sentence at the end of the case will be lower. Though, of course, there’s always a Madoff exception.)
Probably the most interesting question in white-collar crime these days is why there were no prosecutions arising out of the financial meltdown a few years ago.
As with most interesting questions, there are two polarized sides — one side wants to take up pitchforks and torches and head to Wall Street now, and the other side thinks that perhaps we should be a bit more circumspect about throwing people in prison (from that description, you can probably guess which side I’m on).
The Wolf of Wall Street, by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is out, and is the story of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who, if the movie is to be believed (and maybe it mainly should be, including the dwarf tossing) built a fabulously successful and fundamentally corrupt trading firm, then was indicted, then went to federal prison and cooperated against two dozen of his friends and co-conspirators.
I don’t think the movie glorifies fraud any more than, say, Macbeth glorifies ambition. It seems like there are some pretty awesome parts to fraud, like you can use fraud to get a lot of money, which you can use to buy cool things. The movie is also frank that there are some serious downsides, like you can go to prison for committing it.
The film is also a largely accurate portrayal of the reality of a lot of white-collar practice.
Whether you’re someone with a political axe to grind against a Department of Justice run under a Democratic President, a libertarian who simply doesn’t like the government doing much of anything, or someone in the trenches of the criminal justice system who wants to see the guts of the Department of Justice on display, there’s something for everyone to like in the IG’s memo.
And, of course, the IG’s memo is, institutionally, a bit odd. One would think that Eric Holder, the Attorney General, would be the guy issuing memos about the top issues facing the Department of Justice. But, happily, we have the IG — pulling up the dark parts of the Department and bringing them to the public eye.
So here, just so you don’t have to read it, are the most interesting parts of the Inspector General’s memo for folks in the white-collar world.
Leave aside that the article hits the tired drum that more people should have gone to prison after the financial crisis – because, of course, the only thing that causes an economic downturn is crime.
Instead, check out how SIGTARP shows us that they’re doing good work as a law enforcement agency.
[Special Inspector General Christy] Romero noted that the average prison sentence imposed by courts for crimes investigated by SIGTARP is five years and nine months — nearly twice the national average for white-collar fraud.
Right – SIGTARP is a serious player because it’s getting serious prison time…
Ed. note:Matt Kaiser founded The Kaiser Law Firm PLLC, a white-collar boutique in Washington, D.C., and will now be writing a weekly column for us about white-collar practice and his adventures in building a law firm. Matt previously covered the Supreme Court for us. This is the second installment of his new column.
Suppose you’re a fourth-year associate in a litigation department in a large firm on one of the coasts. You’ve worked on a lot of different matters — you’ve done document review for commercial litigation. You put together a privilege log for some patent litigation (who says patent litigation is specialized?). You waded through documents in an FCPA case. You even got to do some deposition digesting for a reinsurance lawsuit!
You really liked your work on the FCPA document review. You noticed that the documents related to a foreign country, which sounded exotic. You could sit in your office, staring at the brick wall on the other side of the alley, and imagine that you were an extra in Casablanca, with a view toward how the world really works overseas.
Perhaps most importantly, you loved how your friends from law school reacted when you told them you were working on an FCPA matter. Cocktail parties became more interesting when people thought of you as a white-collar criminal defense lawyer, rather than the reinsurance guy. You resolved that you’d do more white-collar work and perhaps make this noble practice area the focus of your career.
Jiminy jillickers! ATL editors are going all over the place over the next month or so. Or at least all over the Eastern Seaboard. If we aren’t heading to your neck of the woods on these trips, never fear, we may hit you up on the next time around. We’ve already hit up Houston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in the past year.
Kinney Recruiting’sEvan Jowers is currently in Hong Kong for client meetings and still has a few slots available through October 22. Evan will also be in Hong Kong November 14 to December 15. Further, Robert Kinney has been in Frankfurt and Munich this week and is available for meetings with our Germany based readers.
One of our key law firm clients has referred us to one of their important clients in the US, Europe and China – a leading global technology supplier for the auto industry – in order to handle their search for a new Asia General Counsel and Asia Chief Compliance Officer.
Kinney is exclusively handling this in-house search.
This position will have a lot of responsibility and include supervision of eight attorneys underneath them in the Asia in-house team. The new hire will report directly to the global general counsel and global chief compliance officer, who is based in the US. The new hire’s ability to make judgement calls is going to be as important as their technical skill set background.
The position is based in Shanghai and will deal with the company’s operations all over Asia and also in India, including frequent acquisitions in the region.
It is expected that the new hire will come from a top US firm’s Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong offices, currently in a top flight corporate practice at the senior associate, counsel or partner level. Of course, the candidate can be currently in a relevant in-house role.
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However, with these new powers come new pain points. InvestorID FirmTM provides a secure, fully hosted, cloud-based platform with a breadth of tools for your clients, including: