White-collar criminal-defense attorneys may be more sought-after at U.S. law firms than at any other time in a decade because of stepped-up enforcement of a federal anti-bribery statute and the Dodd-Frank regulatory law.
There is “greater demand for white-collar and enforcement partners than any time I can recall in my 20-plus years as a recruiter, other than when Enron was dominating the headlines,” said Jon Lindsey of Major, Lindsey & Africa, a legal recruiting firm in New York. Enron Corp., once the largest energy trader, declared bankruptcy in December 2001.
Heightened enforcement since 2007 of the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime to bribe foreign officials to get business, and a whistle-blower provision in Dodd-Frank are driving the trend, Lindsey said.
At least nine of the 67 highest-grossing American firms announced they hired partners for their white-collar defense or regulatory compliance practices in the past 15 weeks.
Evan P. Jowers, head of Kinney Recruiting Inc.’s efforts in Asia, said he is trying to fill six U.S. litigation positions at the Chinese offices of six U.S. firms.
The Austin, Texas-based recruiting firm placed three lawyers there this year, after placing one in 2010 and three in all previous years, Jowers said. He expects a rise in such placements in 2012, he said.
“It is only just recently, this year, that I had any reason to focus any effort on recruiting U.S. litigation attorneys in Asia,” he said.
Clifford Chance LLP in October hired three partners for its New York office who all once worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. The 2,466-attorney firm has the fifth-highest revenue in the world, according to 2011 rankings by the American Lawyer, a legal trade magazine. The three are Edward C. O’Callaghan, David B. Raskin and Christopher J. Morvillo.
As a prosecutor, Raskin had cases including that of Zacarias Moussaoui, now serving a life term in prison for his involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
O’Callaghan led Nixon Peabody LLP’s government investigations and white collar defense group. Morvillo was a partner at the white-collar firm Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer PC based in New York.
In a span of two weeks in September and October, Washington-based Zuckerman Spaeder LLP hired Steven M. Cohen, Paul Schechtman, and Andrew E. Tomback. They were also once federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
In February, Zuckerman Spaeder added five white-collar attorneys when it was joined by Murphy & Shaffer LLC in Baltimore.
Other ex-Justice Department attorneys in private practice as white-collar defense lawyers include Mark Mendelsohn of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP and Michael B. Mukasey of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, U.S. attorney general from 2007 to 2009.
The firms hiring such lawyers want to become one-stop shops for their clients, which tend to be large multinational corporations and financial institutions, Lindsey said.
“Firms are looking at this as opportunity to provide counsel to important clients, and they don’t want to have to send it out to a specialist,” he said.
An upswing in Justice Department enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act began in 2007. Starting that year, 117 cases have resulted in fines and forfeitures paid by companies and individuals, compared with a total of 72 in the nine preceding years.
In FCPA cases brought by the SEC in the same period, 70 cases resulted in fines and forfeitures, twice the total number in the 28 prior years, the agency says. The act was signed into law in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter.
White-collar defense and regulations lawyers say they spend less time participating in trials than in avoiding them, through preventative measures or damage control after someone is indicted.
“The goal is to not go to court,” Morvillo said in an interview at Clifford Chance’s New York offices.
The whistle-blower provision in Dodd-Frank, the financial regulatory act signed into law last year by President Barack Obama, provides added incentive for a company to take preventative measures. Morgan Miller, a Paul Hastings LLP litigation partner, said that companies are hiring lawyers to create internal control.
Whistle-blowers can be paid from 10 percent to 30 percent of the sanctions collected if their tips lead to more than $1 million in penalties for securities-law violations proved by the SEC. Twelve of 14 settlements this year have reached that mark.