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!