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On Being An FCPA Associate … A Q&A With Nathan Lankford

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

To these readers and others, meet Nathan Lankford [1], a 2008 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and a current associate at Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C.  In the below Q&A, Lankford describes his FCPA experiences to date and provides advice to students interested in FCPA careers.

What was your first FCPA related assignment? 

Well, it wasn’t very glamorous – I wrote an article for our FCPA Review on “Jack” Stanley’s settlement with the DOJ.  On the bright side, it turned out that a few months later, this case was required reading for my first major assignment as the main Associate on the monitor team for KBR, a prominent engineering and construction company of which Stanley had been CEO.  KBR settled with the DOJ and SEC for a long-running bribery scheme in Nigeria, and the settlement remains the biggest against a US company in FCPA history.  That was my primary project for three years, and a lot of fun.  I got to work with some of the greatest minds and personalities at my firm, met impressive people at all levels of KBR, and had a role in solving complex compliance issues.  When it wrapped up, I felt like I’d earned a PhD in anti-corruption law.

What countries have you visited doing FCPA work?

Algeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, China, Indonesia, Israel, Qatar, Cyprus, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Poland, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.

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

Flying by helicopter to an Algerian facility.  A close runner-up would be when Nigerian airport officers took my iPhone.  In case you’re wondering, no bribes were paid, and they gave it back…eventually.

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

The biggest surprise was discovering the countless ways corruption can happen.  I still haven’t come across a situation where an official said “I can fix this problem for a bribe.”  The pressures and requests are almost always subtle, and constantly taking new forms.  I love hearing the stories of people working in challenging contexts because they often have more direct experience of such pressures – at work and in their personal lives – thanDC-based lawyers like myself.

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

Like many other people, I’d like more official guidance on certain issues so companies can better focus on high-risk transactions.  The DOJ’s/SEC’s recently issued Resource Guide to the FCPA is of course a very positive development in this regard, but I think it could have gone further to settle some debates that drain compliance resources, such as the proper way to identify “foreign officials” in the context of partially state-owned enterprises.  More broadly, if I was asked what should be done to better fight corruption, I’d say I’d like to see more action by host countries on the demand side, with perhaps technical and other assistance from capital exporters like the US. Enforcement against companies can only do so much.

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

I’d encourage anyone wanting to develop an FCPA practice to find ways to build credibility over time – specifically, with ordinary people you’ll be speaking with at companies, not just with other practitioners with specialized knowledge.  Travel obviously helps– it’s good to be able to tell a skeptical interviewee in Malabo that you’ve visited EG several times before– as do language skills.  It also helps to know the basics about the industries you serve, and how anti-corruption compliance fits into the bigger picture of corporate integrity, rule of law, and commercial realities.  So I’d say that aside from developing the fundamental skills that all good lawyers need, students and young associates should take the time to travel and read widely, and stay practiced at talking with non-experts and non-lawyers.