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.
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