What’s it all about?
White collar crime, now also commonly referred to as “business crime”, encompasses areas such as cartels, extradition, mutual legal assistance, corruption, market abuse and insider dealing. It can be distinguished from “general crime” – violent or petty crimes (thefts, assaults, murders, drugs, damage to property etc).
Firms that specialise in white collar crime advise governments, corporations and/or individuals on issues ranging from anti-money laundering and corruption to market manipulation, employee fraud and compliance.
Given the nature and type of offences, it is not surprising that these generally also involve an international and/or civil law dimension. Often there may be concurrent criminal and civil proceedings against the same individual or corporation.
The working culture
White collar crime is highly complex and can take years from the initial investigation through to either the court hearing or a settlement being reached with the prosecution agency. The pace, type and location of work varies daily. Many cases are multi-jurisdictional requiring overseas travel at short notice. A crucial consideration when representing high-profile clients, corporates and businessmen alike, is how to prevent adverse publicity damaging their reputation or career.
Associates play a significant role: taking instructions from clients and representing them at caution interviews; drafting witness statements; negotiating with prosecution agencies and drafting letters of representation in order to persuade them to drop proceedings against a client; preparing cases going to trial and representing clients at court.
Trainees too can expect to be involved directly in cases working under partner and/or associate supervision. They provide research support, attend court hearings and police station interviews, draft instructions to counsel and correspond with the client.
What other practice areas do ‘white collar’ crime lawyers work most closely with?
White collar crime lawyers will usually need to work closely with commercial, banking, employment and civil fraud counterparts, who also have significant expertise in dealing with aspects of corporate fraud. Cases may necessitate asset tracing, or applications to the court for injunctions, search warrants or freezing orders. Equally, your client may be subject to one of these and require advice on the impact and consequences.
Cases will often involve several jurisdictions. You will find yourself working closely with foreign lawyers in order to achieve the best result for your client. Knowledge of foreign languages can play a useful role.
What phrase is a white collar crime lawyer most likely to use and what does it mean?
“Comment” or “No Comment”?
One of the key issues to advise on is whether or not the client should answer questions at a caution interview. Cases are complex and evidence is likely to be extensive, often relating to events which occurred a long time ago. It may be that you have been provided with limited pre-interview disclosure and therefore have little documentation to go on. You must be able to assess what will be in your client’s best long-term interests.
In criminal cartel cases, for example, you may wish to advise your client to make a full statement at the earliest opportunity in order to try and qualify for immunity under the Office of Fair Trading’s leniency programme. If you succeed, your client will be granted immunity in the form of a no-action letter.
Each case will of course turn on its own facts; but the issue of whether an individual should answer questions at interview will always be crucial.
White collar crime lawyers need sound judgment, flexibility, and an ability to work under pressure yet still think creatively. As for all lawyers, meticulous attention to detail is crucial. You will often need to assimilate a good understanding of the client’s industry, which may be specialised and complex; with examples such as the oil and gas industry, freight forwarding or hedge funds.
Strong people and communication skills are essential. Your clients are likely to be under enormous stress. Many will never have been involved in criminal proceedings before.
You will need to reassure and inspire confidence. Cases are also highly confidential with the professional reputation of clients at stake. Absolute integrity and discretion are a prerequisite.
The principal aim of our client will often be to prevent the matter from getting to court. This will require exceptional skills of persuasion and negotiation. You will want to persuade the prosecution agency that they should drop the charges altogether or that they should treat your client as a prosecution witness, rather than a suspect.
Maria Cronin is an associate at Peters & Peters