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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 [1], 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.