The Law: White-collar crime
20 June 2008
Whats it all about?
Criminal cases can broadly be categorised as either general crime (thefts, assaults, murders, drugs or driving offences, damage to property etc) or fraud/white-collar crime cases. High street law firms tend to do general crime cases, often for clients who receive public funding.
Fraud/white-collar crime cases can be highly complex. They can cover all aspects of business delinquency, including corruption, cartels, money laundering, extradition and regulatory compliance, as well as cases that are traditionally thought of as being pure fraud. These cases tend to be referred to specialist firms that can handle the difficult concepts they present whether from the arena of criminal law, commercial litigation (eg international asset tracing and securing) or regulatory law.
The working culture
The pace, type and location of your work can vary daily, depending on which stage you are at with each case. Complex cases can take years from the initial investigations through to conclusion. Large document inspection exercises can be required. Preparation for a trial can get hectic. Trainee solicitors can play a crucial role in gathering evidence, negotiations with the police or prosecuting authority and putting together the case document bundles for the court. Not all cases go to court. Your challenge when representing highprofile clients can be to provide practical solutions to prevent any case being brought or adverse publicity which may damage their reputation.
You can be frequently out of the office to meet with clients, barristers you are instructing and attending interviews with the police and court hearings. Cases might require you to work outside conventional office hours, but if the subject matter is stimulating, it keeps you highly motivated.
Specialist firms that concentrate on business crime often have wealthy clients with assets across the world, so their cases frequently have international dimensions. There are opportunities to travel, sometimes at short notice when a case requires urgent action.
While you obviously need a thorough understanding of criminal law and procedure, these will not necessarily be straightforward to apply for business crime cases. In the UK alone, these cases can be prosecuted by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office or regulators such as the Financial Services Authority and the Office of Fair Trading, not just the Crown Prosecution Service. Proceedings may also be simultaneously run overseas.
You need good judgement, to be quick to learn, prepared to think creatively, capable of assimilating substantial amounts of information and able to operate under pressure often contending with quickly changing circumstances. Meticulous attention to detail is crucial. Strong people and communication skills are also essential for any criminal lawyer. Media skills can also be required, but as much of our work is highly confidential with the professional reputation of our clients being at risk, absolute integrity and discretion are essential.
At the top end of white-collar crime practice, you get the excitement of being at the forefront of high-profile new legal developments. While we cannot usually publicise our clients, we frequently see our cases covered throughout the national newspapers because of their importance in the commercial or political arena, or where they have led to a change in the law that has wide-ranging implications. One of Peters & Peters cases went up to the European Court of Justice where the decision meant that the Government had to pay back millions of pounds of VAT where companies had been wrongly accused of fraud.
We also get instructions to defend requests by overseas governments made against corporate executives to be extradited to their country to face trial. Peters & Peters made law when the court found that such requests from the Russian government against several of our businessmen clients were made for politically motivated reasons.