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The Doctrine Of Apparent Progress


Early in my legal career, an experienced lawyer told me about what he referred to as the “doctrine of apparent progress.”

It goes something like this.

Whether or not you are actually making progress with a client engagement (or other matter), it is important to demonstrate to the client that you are making apparent progress. Thus, the experienced lawyer instructed me, it is important to update the client on any development – no matter how basic or mundane – to make it appear as if you are making progress.

I thought of the “doctrine of apparent progress” upon receiving this recent DOJ press release titled “Justice Department Anticorruption Task Force Launches New Measures to Combat Corruption in Central America.”

In terms of background, as highlighted in this prior post, in June the DOJ announced “a series of steps that the Department of Justice is taking to address the threats posed by both corruption and by transnational human smuggling and trafficking networks” in Central America. The main focus of the establishment of so-called “Joint Task Force Alpha” was “to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.” In addition, the DOJ release stated: “Joint Task Force Alpha will also complement the Justice Department’s efforts to fight corruption.  The Justice Department will increase its focus on investigations, prosecutions, and asset recoveries relating to corruption in Northern Triangle countries through its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement program, counternarcotics prosecutions, and Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.”

Last week’s DOJ press release focused on the very basic and mundane issue of now having a “tip line” to assist in fighting corruption in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

In the release, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division stated:

“In June, the Justice Department announced an Anticorruption Task Force, and has now created a tip line so that anyone with information about corrupt actors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who are violating U.S. laws or moving proceeds of their crimes in or through the United States, may now report the conduct in Spanish or English at”

According to the release:

“Tips regarding possible corruption or movements of ill-gotten funds that are received through the email address will be reviewed by the Department of Justice’s Anticorruption Task Force. The Task Force will determine whether the tip indicates a possible jurisdictional link to the United States – including use of the U.S. financial system – that would allow the Task Force to investigate, to prosecute, and, where appropriate, to forfeit and return stolen assets to the people of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.”

A couple of thoughts.

Was it that difficult to establish the “tip line” in June when announcing the Task Force?

Is establishing a “tip line” really a newsworthy event or merely an example of the doctrine of apparent progress? After all, the DOJ has long had a tip line to report corruption issues.

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