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White collar crime lawyer advises law students

White collar crime: area of practice

White collar crime lawyers differ from criminal lawyers in the types of crimes they work on, explains Stephen McDaid of Dechert LLP.
Document management and perseverance are important skills for trainee solicitors in this area of law.

White collar crime lawyers differ from criminal lawyers in the types of crimes they work on. For a white collar crime lawyer, these predominantly relate to fraud, bribery, corruption or money laundering, and are often referred to as ‘business crimes’. This area does involve criminal prosecutions but they are large scale and more likely to be multi-jurisdictional. Solicitors are most likely to deal with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the National Crime Agency and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Clients are often in the construction, mining, oil and gas or financial services sectors, but can be from any industry. White collar crime solicitors usually act for the company but can also act for the individuals within the company alleged to have carried out the offence.

Work can vary from giving advice about sanctions, corruption and money laundering risks, with one-off transactions, to drafting and implementing trade and anti-corruption compliance policies and procedures. Solicitors also act for large corporates who are subject to regulatory investigations and prosecutions. I have acted for a UK bank being investigated by the FCA and SFO for manipulating Libor and a bank accused of manipulating the foreign exchange and precious metals markets. Advising on one-off transactions starts with speaking to the client to get the material facts from them and providing written advice in an email. Working on compliance policies requires a more detailed understanding of the operations of the client’s business and usually involves site visits.

A solicitor working on a large-scale internal or regulatory case reviews hard copy and electronic documents (eg emails), interviews relevant personnel and reports back to either the client or the relevant regulator with their findings. You can be dealing with regulators in the UK or US, as well as the European Commission. One case I worked on involved more than 20 regulators from around the world.

How many lawyers are you likely to work with on a white collar crime case?

At any one time, a white collar crime lawyer can be working on one large case or dealing with multiple smaller matters. Providing legal advice on smaller matters can take less than a day whereas large-scale investigations can take years to complete. Small cases only usually require one solicitor, whereas large investigations can involve teams of more than 50 lawyers from multiple firms.

I spend most of my time in the office but larger cases involve site visits and travel to conduct interviews. Due to nearly all of our work being multi-jurisdictional, travel is predominantly international.

Depending on my caseload, I will typically work between eight and ten hours each day. However, the work is fairly flexible and largely 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 in the evenings or at the weekend to respond to emails remotely.

The best thing about being a white collar crime solicitor is the varied, topical workload. For example, I worked on an arms trafficking case that involved breaches of sanctions against Iran. It’s usual for a big case we are working on to feature in the media.

It can be difficult to maintain a work/life balance. When it’s busy, it’s very busy and can be stressful; you’ve got to work to meet deadlines set by the regulators. If the SFO want something by a certain date, you have to give it to them by then or they can raid a premises and get it themselves.

How recession-proof is this area of law?

Work is varied and generally quite stable. Workload is 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.

What sort of legal work will I be given as a trainee solicitor?

Document management is a key skill for trainees to develop as cases can be document heavy. Trainees request documents from the client, log them when they come back in, make sure the requests are complied with and make sure the documents are assigned to associates to review. There are opportunities to attend important meetings with senior partners and executives from the client. Trainees may be required to take note of key points at the meeting and will learn by observing.

Successful white collar crime lawyers have…

  • Attention to detail.
  • The ability to review and digest large amounts of information.
  • Perseverance.

Types of law practised by solicitors in this area of legal practice

  • Criminal.
  • European.
  • Contract.

STEPHEN MCDAID is an associate in the international trade and government regulation team at DECHERT LLP. He graduated from the University of Auckland in 2006 with a degree in law and a degree in psychology.