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Legal Expert and Former Dechert Partner Neil Gerrard on 4 Key Qualifications To Look For in White-Collar Representation

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Legal Expert and Former Dechert Partner Neil Gerrard on 4 Key Qualifications To Look For in White-Collar Representation

(Photo : Tingey Injury Law Firm via Unsplash)

In today's legal environment, few white-collar cases involve a small scope.

Because white-collar legal work can encompass numerous elements, it's rarely simple - and as such, it requires a nuanced approach. To best represent clients, attorneys need to possess certain knowledge and skills, such as an intrinsic ability to communicate with numerous stakeholders and previous experience working on similar matters.

Clients hoping to facilitate a favorable outcome in their white-collar case should confirm their legal team can provide the following four crucial components.

1. Considerable Experience in White-Collar Work - Which Can Often Be Found Within US Firms, Neil Gerrard Says

While numerous law firms have added white-collar practice groups in recent decades, some may not be as well-positioned as others to address legal needs that relate to businesses operating in various locations.

Law firms' ability to address companies' related legal needs has, in fact, escalated at a faster pace in some countries, according to Neil Gerrard, former partner of Dechert LLP's white-collar practice.

"If a client goes to a law firm in the U.S., they can expect a good level of experience, but there is more of a risk in the UK," Gerrard told the legal publisher Lawdragon. "There are still too many lawyers who are rebranded former litigators without a specialist white-collar background."

The U.S., according to 2021 data, is generally perceived as the dominant nation in enforcing and prosecuting global economic crime, due to factors such as the U.S. issuing more money laundering violations and having had more success prosecuting matters under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) than the UK has had with Bribery Act 2010-related prosecution.

"I would say that the UK is currently five to seven years behind the U.S.," Neil Gerrard told Lawdragon. "And Europe is five to seven years behind the UK."

2. A Thorough Understanding of Current Regulations 

White-collar matters can touch on a number of regulatory and compliance issues - particularly if more than one country is involved. 

Corruption, antitrust, and other infractions have become violations that government agencies around the world have focused on more fervently in recent years. 

At the same time, companies have increasingly sought to avoid many of those types of regulatory and compliance-related issues. The potentially sizeable fines and threat of reputational damage have served as motivation for organizations to proactively assess and monitor their liability both within the area where they're headquartered and any regions where the company conducts business, where its operations could be subject to local and national laws and regulations. 

Conducting extensive risk reviews in foreign markets where companies function, according to Neil Gerrard, is vital to make sure the organization thoroughly comprehends - and is complying with - local and national laws and practices, as requirements and standards can differ from one country to another.

"Businesses need to be on the front foot with compliance, obtaining preemptive legal advice as early as possible from lawyers who are real specialists," Neil Gerrard told Lawdragon. "Then when you create systems and processes to ensure compliance, they also need to link back to your home jurisdiction, and to the U.S. if you are engaged in international business." 

3. Resources That Extend Beyond the Firm - Offering a "Geographically Broad Reach," Former Dechert Attorney Neil Gerrard Says

Approximately 40% of in-house legal departments worked with up to 10 law firms in 2021, according to KPMG's 2021 Global Legal Department Benchmarking Survey. 

Corporations may outsource work to a law firm for a number of reasons, including having limited internal resources or requiring dedicated sector expertise. Law firms can also sometimes supply an extensive network of service providers in multiple locations.

When assembling a group to work on a case, Dechert's white-collar team, for instance, is able to pull professionals from its New York, Washington, D.C., London, Paris, Hong Kong, and other locations - allowing the firm, as Neil Gerrard said, to select the truly best people to perform various types of work, based on their level and type of experience and language capabilities. Other qualifications, such as having served as a U.S. attorney or senior lawyer in the UK's Serious Fraud Office, may also come into play.

"We have lawyers on the ground in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and within all those offices the team is multicultural and multilingual," he told Lawdragon. "That experience in managing multi-office teams and the ability to operate in different jurisdictions is crucial."

Sometimes one law firm cannot provide all the assistance that's needed in a case, due to its range. If that could be a concern, companies may want to consider working with a firm that can tap into external resources if needed - such as leveraging relationships the firm has built over the years with qualified attorneys who practice in locations where the firm doesn't have an office.

Local attorneys can serve as a wealth of knowledge about the particular nuances of the law and how legal proceedings operate in a given country - which may be particularly helpful in white-collar matters. 

"These investigations now span continents, take years to resolve, and involve dozens, if not hundreds, of parallel and competing strands," Neil Gerrard told Lawdragon. "You simply cannot now separate a domestic prosecution or investigation from what is happening elsewhere in the world, which is why clients need counsel who are culturally nuanced and have a geographically broad reach." 

4. The Ability To Collaborate With Other Entities 

White-collar matters - particularly ones that span multiple locations - can involve a significant amount of coordination. Various authorities' stances on the charges may not line up and the involved legal and other parties in the case need to be able to effectively share documentation and determine what procedural steps will be taken and when.

Dechert's white-collar practice, during the time period when Neil Gerrard led it, established a thorough system to share and communicate information when working on a four-year case involving European aerospace leader Airbus SE, the UK's Serious Fraud Office, France's Parquet National Financier, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of State.

Along with organizing work activities among attorneys from three other law firms, e-discovery consultants, external export-control practitioners, and forensic accountants, Dechert's team - which in addition to Neil Gerrard included U.S.-based partner Ben Barnett and other firm members - established a disclosure strategy involving a technology-assisted review process that helped the documents in the case be submitted to the authorities faster, while accommodating for national security laws, data protection, and language differences.

In 2020, Dechert and the other parties received the Most Important Development of the Year award from Global Investigations Review for their work on the unprecedented, multijurisdictional case.

Neil Gerrard, in a statement about winning the award, cited the collective teamwork as a factor in the case, calling working with such an impressive group of legal and other professionals an "honour and privilege."

While in some instances, lawyers may be called in to help defend an organization against regulatory-related accusations and other issues, in Neil Gerrard's 2019 Lawdragon interview, he also stressed the importance of proactively positioning an organization to avoid the appearance of misconduct - with help from its legal team.

"You cannot operate two separate compliance systems," Gerrard said. "Your lawyers need to be specialists in the U.S. and your home country, plus have the international reach to assist you elsewhere in the world when necessary."

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