White collar crime: area of practice

Handling cross-border investigations and dealing with enforcement agencies are two key part of this practice area, says Marie Kavanagh – an associate at Cooley (UK) LLP.

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Artificial intelligence has started to play a more significant role through the course of investigations as it becomes increasingly used by enforcement agencies and legal teams.

White collar crime is essentially business crime. In the main, this practice area involves working with enforcement agencies that relate to, or have the power to enforce criminal law over, the business community to investigate and prosecute these crimes. These range from money laundering and cartel activity to a variety of regulatory offences and compliance requirements. Clients can be individuals and businesses from all industries.

There is also the preventative side of white collar crime law, where lawyers will assist clients to not fall foul of regulatory laws and to be able to deal with matters should things go wrong.

What does a typical white collar crime case look like?

A typical case begins with an investigation. This will usually be initiated by the company which carries the risk or started by an enforcement agency that will be looking into alleged impropriety. Either way, there is usually a long period of investigation. In relatively rare cases, a case will go to trial, which is a more formal and public process within which there are further opportunities for lawyers to assist their client to extricate themselves from these proceedings.

In the long term, it can be more cost effective for clients to involve lawyers in the early stages of an investigation. However, this is not always the case and lawyers can enter a case at any moment through the course of the investigation or trial process.

What is working life like for a while collar crime lawyer?

Each enforcement agency will have its own timetable for a case, so the duration of a case will vary. The main goal is to extricate a client from an investigation as soon as possible. Having said that, it is not unusual for investigations to last in excess of a year and, if a case is prosecuted, it can take a number of years for the prosecution to bring the case to trial. It’s typical for lawyers at large firms to have 15 to 20 active cases at a time. Between five and ten lawyers will usually be involved in the legal team and this is usually made up of one or two partners and three to five associates, with the rest being either trainees, junior associates or paralegals.

My time is normally split 50/50 between the office and travelling, with more travel being necessary if engaged with an international agency or lawyers overseas. Working hours can be long and unpredictable: every case is likely to have intense periods and clients may require help unexpectedly, for example you may have to attend a dawn raid at very short notice or attend a client immediately following contact from an enforcement agency.

What do trainees need to know about white collar crime?

White collar crime law is very fluid and constantly changing. Currently, there are new developments such as the extension of certain US and UK enforcement agency powers to compel the production of data held overseas following the implementation of the Cloud Act Agreement as well as numerous significant case law developments relating to the scope of LPP in international investigations. Artificial intelligence has also started to play a more significant role through the course of investigations as it becomes increasingly used by enforcement agencies and legal teams.

There’s been a serious change in the enforcement landscape over the last ten years. There is now greater coordination between international agencies and the possibility of businesses facing international investigations that span various jurisdictions is much higher.

What will trainee lawyers in a white collar crime department do?

Trainees are likely to have the opportunity to meet clients alongside their team. Similarly, they may play a part in planning the firm’s interaction with enforcement agencies.

What skills do white collar crime lawyers need to do the job?

  • Data analysis skills and an eye for detail, along with a keen interest in strategy.
  • The ability to deal with pressure and to make decisions without having all the information.
  • Good personal skills and the ability to stay calm and confident, as lawyers need to deal with individuals who are under pressure and can feel anxious.

Types of law practiced

  • Criminal.

MARIE KAVANAGH is an associate in white collar and regulatory defence at COOLEY (UK) LLP . Marie graduated with an LLB from Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) in 2006.

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