White collar crime: area of practice
White collar crime is commercial or business crime. Usually, cases involve allegations of fraud, bribery, securities fraud (such as insider trading) or money laundering.
Clients can be from any industry. Our firm’s clients include senior employees of a large bank facing regulatory actions, an aircraft manufacturer, a high-frequency trading firm, individuals alleged to have laundered money in Switzerland, and a country seeking to recover money that former public officials took from it (as well as the public officials themselves). Solicitors usually act for the company, but can act for individuals within the company accused of an offence.
Clients, cases and working hours in white collar crime
Often, we are defending clients facing multi-jurisdictional criminal prosecutions. We may begin with an internal investigation – reviewing documents and interviewing witnesses – to determine whether there is a risk that the client has committed a criminal offence. We might then engage with regulators or prosecuting authorities and develop an engagement strategy to best protect the client’s interests. We might decide it is best to go all the way to a criminal trial.
Solicitors are most likely to deal with regulators from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), but may also deal with regulators in the UK or United States, as well as the European Commission.
A white collar crime lawyer can be working on one large case or dealing with multiple smaller matters. Smaller matters can take less than a day and only usually require one solicitor, whereas large-scale investigations can take years to complete and can involve more than 50 lawyers from multiple firms.
I spend most of my time in the office, but larger cases involve international travel and site visits to conduct interviews. I keep pretty regular hours between 8.30 am and 7.30 pm each day. The work is fairly flexible and depends on deadlines given by the client and/or regulator. Working all night or at the weekend is rare but you do need to be available to respond to emails remotely. Like any law job, you have to work hard to maintain a good work/life balance and not become too stressed in the face of tight deadlines and unpredictable turns of events. But this can be done.
The best thing about being a white collar crime solicitor is the variety of work. For example, we’ve worked on an arms trafficking case that involved alleged breaches of sanctions. We’ve also sought and defended extradition requests. Big cases do feature in the media and part of our job is ensuring that the strategic decisions the client makes do not result in bad press. You need to be aware, though, that while at the macro level the cases can be captivating, at the micro level cases may involve trawling through emails to find incriminating or exculpatory evidence.
How recession-proof is this area of legal practice?
Work is generally stable and more associated with the regulatory agenda than the state of the economy. For example, negative public opinion towards the banks after the financial crisis caused regulators to focus on banking conduct and a number of high-profile banking investigations arose from this.
How will leaving the EU affect white collar crime?
Given a significant proportion of relevant sanctions (such as those imposed on Iran, Egypt and Russia) derive from the European Union, Brexit will significantly affect the advisory work we do for companies who want to trade in sanctioned countries. Also, at present, intra-Europe extradition takes place according to the European Arrest Warrant regime. It’s not clear what will replace this post-Brexit.
Read TARGETjobs' advice on how to talk about Brexit in training contract interviews here.
What sort of work will I do as a trainee solicitor?
Document management is a key skill for trainees to develop as cases can be document heavy. Trainees may request documents from the client, log them when they come in, make sure the requests are complied with and assign the documents to associates to review. They may also review evidence and report back on their findings. We once flew a trainee overseas to present her findings to a high-ranking government official. Strong internet research skills are also important as trainees will frequently be asked to find out who a person is (and, sometimes, possible reasons for their recent arrest).
Successful white collar crime lawyers have…
- Attention to detail.
- The ability to review and digest large amounts of information.
Types of law practised by solicitors in this area of practice
WILLIAM FOTHERBY is an associate in the white collar and securities litigation team at DECHERT LLP. He graduated from the University of Auckland in 2009 with degrees in law and arts. He worked as criminal prosecutor in New Zealand before moving to the UK in 2014.