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Dear Prospective FCPA Lawyer

Dear

In running Foreign Corrupt Practices Act searches everyday, I often stumble upon an eclectic mix of information.

For instance, on this “Top Law School” message board, an individual asks: “As a [prospective law student], how feasible is it for me to make FCPA practice a goal after completing law school? Is this practice area more difficult to get into than standard biglaw?”

I frequently receive variants of the same questions from law students and young associates and offer my thoughts below.

First things first.

While it is good to be thinking about the future, do not lose sight of the present. If your goal is to begin your legal career in a large (or larger size) law firm (where FCPA practices tend to be, but not exclusively, based), that position is likely going to result from a summer internship between your second and third year of law school. That summer internship is likely going to be secured as a result of your first year grades. In short, the first year of law school is very important and if there ever were two four month segments of your educational journey to treat like a job, the first and second semester of law school would be it.

Beyond the obvious – do well in law school particularly your first year – prospective FCPA lawyers should have foundational knowledge in how corporations and other business organizations operate (i.e. a corporations or business organizations class) and how business organizations function in the global marketplace (i.e. an international business transactions class). From there, it would also be ideal to take a course in white collar crime and securities regulation (after all the FCPA is part of the Securities Exchange Act and the Securities and Exchange Commission enforces the FCPA as to certain companies). Of course, if your law school offers a specific FCPA course (like Southern Illinois University School of Law offers), you should obviously take that course as well.  Beyond these courses, exposure to general corporate governance and general compliance topics would be useful as well.

While the above courses focus on substantive knowledge, realize that FCPA practitioners posses practical skills as well that can be developed beginning in law school. Chief among these is factual investigation and attention to detail. Thus, any class in law school that allows skill development in witness interviewing, factual investigation (including e-discovery), and other internal investigation issues should also be considered.

So now that you have taken all or most of the above classes, rank near the top of your class, and are ready to hit the job market, what next?

Do realize that most law firms with a robust FCPA practice are generally not looking to hire a first year associate specifically for that practice (just like firms are generally not looking to hire first year associates specifically for its antitrust practice, M&A practice etc). Rather, and to borrow the sports analogy, law firms are generally looking to hire the best available athlete. You are able to best position yourself as that best available athlete by doing well in law school and gaining exposure to the above substantive and practical topics.

Now that you have a realistic perspective on the chances of getting hired out of law school as a “FCPA attorney,” what should you do early in your legal career to develop an FCPA practice?

In short, be persistent and take ownership of your career. Just because your first or second year of practice may not involve much, if any FCPA-related work, does not mean that you have to abandon your goal of becoming an FCPA lawyer. Be like a sponge when it comes to the FCPA and absorb as much information as you possibly can during non-billable hours.

For instance, this post outlines an FCPA reading package. Read FCPA Professor everyday and if you are looking to elevate your FCPA knowledge and practical skills attend the FCPA Institute as several young associates from leading firms have done.

Interested in learning more about what FCPA associates do and career advice they have? This subject matter tag contains several Q&A’s with FCPA associates.

Some other things to keep in mind as you contemplate an FCPA career. Very few “FCPA lawyers” devote 100% or even 75% of their practice to FCPA work. This percentage may vary in any given year particularly if you are involved in an internal investigation. In short, you are going to have to develop other practices and skills beyond the FCPA which makes the above general suggestions all the more important.

Other miscellaneous thoughts on becoming an FCPA lawyer and maintaining an FCPA practice.

  • Having a well-informed world-view certainly helps. International travel teaches you several important things about life, culture and the world in which we live. Being an FCPA lawyer often requires a fair amount of travel and the more exposure you can get to foreign cultures through international travel will certainly be an intangible asset. This includes travel to developing countries and emerging markets as your FCPA career is likely to take you to such places.
  • Speaking multiple languages (particularly Mandarin, Spanish, and Portuguese) will be a great asset to have.
  • Be flexible and expect the unexpected. If you want an FCPA practice you have to be prepared for the day when you are comfortably sitting at your desk on a Tuesday (with a nice upcoming weekend planned), but the phone rings and 24 hours later you are on plane to Beijing, Sao Paulo, Jakarta, or some other foreign location. You will arrive at your destination jet-lagged, not able to sleep at night because of the time difference, but have a full day of factual investigation and witness interviews ahead. Patience will take on a new meaning when you are conducting interviews through an interpreter. In short, if you want an FCPA practice you need to be prepared to go with the flow and expect the unexpected.
  • Be humble. Sure you may be the high-priced lawyer who arrived to the foreign country via first-class airfare with access to a private driver and a private security detail (well let’s hope not but it depends where you are traveling). However, don’t think for a moment that you are any better or smarter than the people you will interact with in the foreign country. Also remember, you are a guest in their country and in their office environment and don’t you forget this. Your ability to have a successful trip will largely depend on seemingly minor issues that will put you into contact with seemingly minor personnel at the client site.

Best of luck as you prepare for and advance in your FCPA practice!

On Being An FCPA Associate … A Q&A With Laura Greig

Q&A

FCPA Professor enjoys a diverse group of readers including law students and young associates interested in careers that focus on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

To these readers and others, meet Laura Greig, a 2010 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law and a current associate in the Houston office of King & Spalding.

In the below Q&A, Greig describes her FCPA experiences to date and provides advice to those interested in FCPA careers.

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What was your first FCPA-related assignment?

I joined King & Spalding as a summer associate hoping to become involved in the FCPA practice, and I was lucky enough to get started right away.  My first FCPA assignment that summer involved a survey of enforcement actions related to financial service institutions, with a focus on African jurisdictions.  It was a great introduction to King & Spalding’s FCPA practice, and I was able to rejoin the team when I started as a full-time associate.

What countries have you visited doing FCPA work?

China, Bahrain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Of those countries, what has been your most memorable experience?

There have been many interesting destinations and experiences, from packing complications (try packing binders for 25 interviews into your carry-on to keep them locked and secure), to wardrobe issues (as a woman measuring almost six feet tall, it was not easy to find a properly-fitting abaya).  As most people reading can understand, my clients probably would not appreciate sharing my most interesting in-country experiences, given their context, but there have been plenty of other memorable moments.  I’ve always loved to travel, and even if 20 of 24 hours in every day abroad are focused on the task at hand, every trip has some experience that satisfies my personal travel bug.  Things that seem simple stick with me for a long time, like watching a stunning sunrise over the Persian Gulf and being able to truly appreciate and understand where I was in the world.  Of course, I was only awake to see that sunrise due to travel delay, back-to-back red-eye flights, and resulting food poisoning from consecutive airline dinners—but it was memorable nonetheless.

As you learned more about the FCPA, what surprised you the most?

I’d have to say that the most surprising aspect about the FCPA is the breadth of its reach.  The growing global marketplace, paired with the government’s expansive application of the statute, makes it seem as though almost any entity or individual could face FCPA scrutiny.  It’s interesting to track the development of the enforcement climate as aspects of the statute evolve (almost unchecked), like the limits of FCPA jurisdiction or who is considered a “foreign official.”

If you could change one thing about the FCPA or FCPA enforcement, what would it be?

I would make FCPA enforcement more transparent.  As it stands, there is very little case precedent, which leaves practitioners to rely on their own enforcement experience and other corporate settlements that were arrived at behind closed doors.  I think it would help to level the playing field if everyone could understand more clearly how often and why the enforcement authorities choose not to bring cases; how the government decides on a particular type of settlement (e.g., NPA versus DPA); and what specific facts of a case were considered and given weight in determining a particular outcome.  With more transparency, companies could have clear insight into how they should proceed, both from a proactive compliance standpoint and when they investigate potential FCPA issues.

What advice do you have to students or young associates interested in having an FCPA practice?

When selecting a law firm, make sure it has a dedicated FCPA practice with a deep bench of attorneys specializing in the area.  This will not only increase your likelihood of getting to work on FCPA matters, but will provide you with opportunities for great mentoring and the chance to work with experts in the space.  I was lucky enough to join a firm that has a substantial number of associates and partners whose time is predominantly, if not wholly, devoted to FCPA work, and from whom I have learned a tremendous amount.  It’s also of the utmost importance to stay on top of developments in the anti-corruption arena—not just related to the FCPA.   Anti-corruption issues are in the spotlight on a global level, and it is a quickly developing area with evolving legal issues.  Lastly, to be an effective FCPA associate working on investigations or compliance issues, you must understand both sides of the coin—how to address the unique issues that arise in connection with an FCPA investigation, and also the anti-corruption compliance best practices that should be employed to help prevent and mitigate anti-corruption risks.

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See here for prior FCPA career interviews.

On Being An FCPA Associate … A Q&A With Mario Meeks

FCPA Professor enjoys a diverse group of readers including law students and young associates interested in careers that focus on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

To these readers and others, meet Mario Meeks, a 2008 graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law and a current associate in the Washington D.C. office of Shearman & Sterling.

In the below Q&A, Meeks describes his FCPA experiences to date and provides advice to those interested in FCPA careers.

What was your first FCPA-related assignment?

I was fresh out of the 2007 summer associate orientation, sitting at my desk, and trying to get acclimated to my office, when my phone rang. My Caller-ID read “DC Reception.” When I answered the phone, it was an FCPA partner (calling on his cell phone). He had been routed through the main line to my office. After a brief introduction, he informed me that he couldn’t talk long as he was about to board a plane headed to Europe in less than fifteen minutes, and that he would be gone for roughly six weeks. From that moment on, I was hooked. The actual assignment was fairly straight forward, yet quite comprehensive. I was asked to prepare a memorandum detailing the data protection and privacy laws of overforty countries across the world in preparation for collecting information related to an allegation of a possible FCPA violation by an entity with a substantial global footprint.

What countries have you visited doing FCPA work?

I have had the opportunity to visit the following countries doing FCPA-related work: China, France, Germany, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mali, and Switzerland.

Of those countries, what has been your most memorable experience?

There are two memorable experiences that readily come to mind.

Indonesia (2009). The experience was memorable because it marked a number of firsts for me, including my first FCPA-related travel, my first visit to the eastern hemisphere, my first time acquiring a travel visa, my first time flying business class, and my first time putting in back-to-back all-nighters at Shearman. By the time we landed in Indonesia, I had been up for over fifty hours; plus we still had a full day of interviews ahead! It was also memorable because it allowed me to work up-close and personally with a brilliant partner, which gave me invaluable insight into what it takes to be successful at Shearman and generally how to be a better lawyer.

Guinea (2011). En route to remote facilities in Guinea, we had to pass through several roadblocks. At these roadblocks, I observed that frequently vehicles ahead were detained and being inspected by paramilitary forces, while we rolled right through. But  at the last roadblock, the same paramilitary outfit actually detained our vehicle. The  driver pulled off the road into an outpost, where we were instructed to remain inside  the vehicle with no air conditioning. We waited for what felt like several hours, then suddenly the driver came back, hopped in, and we drove off. The driver later informed us that he had to pay a “penalty” because visiting corporate representatives did not have visas.

As you learned more about the FCPA, what surprised you the most?

What surprised me most was how easy it is to run afoul of the FCPA, especially its  books and records provisions. Based on my experience, the overwhelming majority of  the FCPA-related matters that I have worked on involved companies with compliance programs (to various degrees) in place that were trying to abide by the requirements of  the applicable jurisdictions. Almost inevitably, however, something occurred at a  satellite entity or at the local level that proved to be quite problematic.

If you could change one thing about the FCPA or FCPA enforcement, what would it be?

I really think there should be an “adequate procedures” affirmative defense similar in many respects to the defense available under the UK Bribery Act. Today, many multinational companies are investing heavily into designing and implementing risk-tiered but comprehensive anti-corruption compliance programs that meet most, if not all, of the identified collective best practices for such programs. Still, many of these companies risk being subjected to substantial fines if the DOJ or SEC (with the benefit of hindsight) deem their risk-tiered approach insufficient upon the government’s discovery of an actual violation.

What advice do you have to students or young associates interested in having an FCPA practice?

I have three suggestions. First, they need to make sure they have a valid passport. Second and more importantly, they need to be diligent in identifying opportunities to work with partners and senior associates that do FCPA-related work, including working on non-FCPA matters. Lastly, I would suggest that these young professionals perpetually cultivate their craft by staying current on the latest developments in FCPA news and offering to work on non-billable FCPA marketing materials or client publications to further increase their visibility to the FCPA practice group and that group’s visibility to potential clients.

On Being An FCPA Associate … A Q&A With Jane Shvets

FCPA Professor enjoys a diverse group of readers including law students and young associates interested in careers that focus on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

To these readers and others, meet Jane Shvets, a 2007 graduate of Harvard Law School and a current associate in the New York office of Debevoise & Plimpton.

In the below Q&A, Shvets describes her FCPA experiences to date and provides advice to those interested in FCPA careers.

What was your first FCPA-related assignment?

The Siemens AG investigation.  When I started at Debevoise in September 2007, the investigation had been going on for about 9 months, so I was thrown right in.  Given the unprecedented size and scope of that case, it was certainly a trial by fire, and a great way to learn whether FCPA work was right for me.  I loved it, and transitioned in the course of the year between several sub-investigations, involving several of the company’s business units and country subsidiaries in Germany, Austria, and Russia, among others.  Aside from getting a crash course in FCPA enforcement and the investigative process, I got to learn a lot about Siemens’ business, including  technology in high-speed trains in Russia and how to build a hospital in Romania.  That aspect – learning about different businesses and how they operate – has remained one of my favorite aspects of FCPA work.

What countries have you visited doing FCPA work?

Russia, Germany, Austria, the UK (all too many times to count), China, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Israel, and Switzerland.

 Of those countries, what has been your most memorable experience?

There have been so many, both professionally and personally.  One that certainly comes to mind is an interview at which the company’s executive drew us a map of the location of some binders with problematic documents in the company’s archive.  We were actually able to use that “treasure map” to find the binders in the dark and dusty recesses of the underground archive.  I am a big fan of whodunits, and that was my Nancy Drew moment.  More importantly, I have had great luck traveling with incredibly interesting, knowledgeable, and fun colleagues, many of whom have become friends.

 As you learned more about the FCPA, what surprised you the most?

I was most surprised to find how easy it can be, for a company executive or a rank-and-file employee, to “go wrong” when it comes to compliance with the FCPA or other anti-corruption laws.  When starting out, I had a preconception that the majority of those involved in FCPA violations took conscious and deliberate action to violate the law.  After years of practicing in this field, I now think that such people represent a very small minority.  Instead, frequently it is an email written without much thought on a busy day or not making a follow-up inquiry in response to a problematic due diligence report that can land both the employee and the company in trouble.  That is why it is so important to understand the context in which the events you are investigating occurred, and to appreciate the pressures under which the people were operating before coming to conclusions.  It is also why training – frequently conducted and tailored to address the real-world scenarios employees face – is paramount to prevent problems from occurring.

If you could change one thing about the FCPA or FCPA enforcement, what would it be?

I believe that more credit should be given to companies that self-report potential violations, and the government should make it clearer when, and how, such credit is given.  Although government officials consistently emphasize importance of self-reporting and do appear to take it into account when making enforcement decisions, more can be done to bring clarity and certainty in this area.  In 2013, for example, only 4 of the 11 companies that received declinations from the DOJ or the SEC self-reported potential violations, making it difficult to conclude that a decision to self-disclose is a prerequisite to receiving a declination.  Of course, in every given case, the government considers a whole host of factors in deciding on the appropriate resolution to an FCPA case.  Nevertheless, the lack of guidance in this area makes it difficult for companies – and for us in advising them – to decide whether to recommend self-disclosure.  That can be particularly difficult for companies based in jurisdictions where cooperation with government authorities is not part of the legal culture; they often want to see clear evidence of advantages of self-disclosure, which is hard to come by.

What advice do you have to students or young associates interested in having an FCPA practice?

Often, FCPA work at law firms, particularly at junior levels, focuses heavily on the facts of the case and the issues under investigation.  I highly recommend taking time to go beyond the specific issue at hand and to learn more about the business of the company and the work that the relevant employees do every day.  Google the company, read its annual report, ask some general questions in the interviews.  Gaining that broader perspective is invaluable in placing the particular situation that gave rise to potential FCPA issue in its proper context and in assessing its likelihood of recurrence.  It also helps create rapport in the interviews – in my experience, nothing irks interviewees more than when the interviewers know nothing about their business.

Also, make sure you understand why the issues you are investigating may be problematic to begin with:  read the FCPA and keep current with the legal developments in the area.  Don’t be the associate who does not know what the “FCPA” stands for!  As you become more senior, it is increasingly important to be able not just to master the facts, but also to understand what those facts mean for your client’s liability and potential exposure.

Finally, sign up for TSA Pre-Check.  You save tons of time at the airport.

On Being An FCPA Associate … A Q&A With Oleh Vretsona

FCPA Professor enjoys a diverse group of readers, including law students and others interested in careers that focus on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

To these readers and others, meet Oleh Vretsona , a 2006 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, a 1997 graduate of the Ivan Franko National University, Law Department, Lviv, Ukraine, and a current associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C.

In the below Q&A, Vretsona describes his FCPA experiences to date and provides advice to students interested in FCPA careers.

What was your first FCPA-related assignment?

The FCPA monitorship for Statoil ASA was my first assignment in this area of law.  Statoil’s 2006 settlement with the SEC and DOJ was the first ever to impose a monitor on a foreign issuer. Gibson Dunn partner Joe Warin was appointed to serve in this role.  I had the amazing and rewarding opportunity to serve as a core member of Joe’s team and support the monitorship for three years, seeing it through to successful completion in November 2009.   The opportunity allowed me to develop a holistic and thorough understanding of Statoil’s worldwide business and approach to compliance, and assist the company in enhancing its anti-bribery compliance program to address the constantly changing risks of global energy exploration and extraction.  My work on the monitorship included analyzing new corporate compliance policies and procedures, meeting with company personnel tasked with anti-bribery compliance and responsible for operations in higher-risk regions, and visiting numerous Statoil facilities around the world.  Statoil successfully completed the monitorship in November 2009, when the U.S. government dismissed the criminal charges against the company.

What countries have you visited doing FCPA work?

Azerbaijan, Denmark, Germany (more than 5 times), Indonesia, Norway, Poland, Russia (more than 10 times), and Turkey.

Of those countries, what has been your most memorable experience?

I have had many memorable experiences from my FCPA-related travel.  My most memorable experience was meeting Siemens’s Monitor, former German Minister of Finance Theo Waigel—a remarkable politician, lawyer, and person, known as the father of the Euro, the European Union currency—during the Monitor’s team visit to Russia.  Another experience that stands out in my memory is being questioned extensively about the purpose of my visit by Azerbaijani border control guards before the departure of my flight from Baku to London.  After a long back and forth with them, I barely made my flight.

As you learned more about the FCPA, what surprised you the most?

I guess it was not so much a surprise, as a realization of the importance of each individual employee’s compliance awareness, integrity, and willingness to report concerns, wherever she or he is located, to a company’s overall compliance effort.  Much of the work I have done for clients has revolved around how to drive a culture of compliance throughout a global organization while taking into account the local cultural differences.  I have seen how important it is for management to model compliant behavior and communicate the company’s compliance values to employees, especially in higher-risk locations.  The compliance buy-in that is instrumental to this effort especially needs to come from mid-level managers, whose integration into compliance processes makes compliance a natural part of a company’s daily business decisions.

If you could change one thing about the FCPA or FCPA enforcement, what would it be?

If I could change one thing about the FCPA or FCPA enforcement, it would be to afford organizations the affirmative defense of an effective compliance program to avoid liability for anti-bribery violations of the statute by employees or agents, similar to the affirmative defense to section 7 of the U.K. Bribery Act.  I believe that this would bring more certainty into companies’ business operations and compliance planning, and would increase corporate innovation in enhancing compliance processes.

What advice do you have to students or young associates interested in having an FCPA practice?

My main advice would be to develop a passion for and curiosity about international developments and foreign language capabilities.  In addition to extensive knowledge of the law and compliance practices, these two competencies distinguish associates from others in the field and equip them with tools that help address complicated compliance-related issues that are frequently rooted in various countries’ cultural realities.  I am blessed with working with a global team of Gibson Dunn lawyers who share my abiding interest in understanding client problems, providing targeted advice, and forging solutions for them throughout the world.

In my own career, I have seen the great value of marrying expertise in the law and compliance with linguistic abilities—in my case, fluency in Russian and Ukrainian,  as well as advanced knowledge of Polish—and local cultural experiences.  There is no substitute to being able to conduct work—especially internal investigations—in the native language of individuals involved in the matter and to understand the cultural underpinnings of employees’ daily decisions.

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