LEO ----> white collar defense/investigations

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LEO ----> white collar defense/investigations

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Aug 11, 2020 8:29 am

I wanted to get the opinion of those who practice white collar defense/government investigations as to the possibility of breaking into this practice area from a non-traditional background. I have been a police officer for over 8 years, 5 of which has been as a detective focusing on major felonies (anything from theft right up to homicide). I have made it a point to become the go-to guy in my squad for financial crimes (not securities type crimes, think fraud and money schemes mostly) and I have also taken on a lot of additional work in the realm of digital forensics. I went to law school (northeast school that approaches on the top 50) part-time evenings while working, graduated in 2018 and passed the bar in 2019. Given that timeline, I basically missed the boat on the traditional associate path at this point. If I was to make a jump into private practice with the goal of ultimately doing work in white collar defense, do you think this is something I would have an avenue directly into? Or, would I be best served getting into a general criminal defense firm and hope to pick up financial crimes type work and lateral after a few years? I really do not want to be pigeon holed into blue collar defense though, which I assume is a risk of going into a criminal defense boutique. Thanks all.

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Re: LEO ----> white collar defense/investigations

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 12, 2020 9:33 am

You certainly have a shot at small/midlaw white collar shops. A lot of firms (mine included) have former LEO attorneys. In your position I would reach out directly to former LEOs that are now attorneys in a white collar practice. Let them know your path and that you're looking for advice on making the transition.

In my region almost all of the "blue collar" criminal defense firms are solos. It would be tough, but not impossible, to make the transition to a white collar practice. Good luck!

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Re: LEO ----> white collar defense/investigations

Post by JOThompson » Fri Aug 21, 2020 8:59 pm

I think white collar defense may be tough for your to break into as a new attorney, even with a lot of detective experience. Some similarities with our white collar and financial crimes investigations experience. I've attempted to get into white collar criminal defense for awhile. I've been out of school seven years. Three years as a defense attorney with a couple high profile federal white collar cases. Last four years as a prosecutor, with two being almost exclusively state-level white collar crimes. I handle the investigations/warrants/filings side of my county's cases (one of the larger west coast cities). I've applied broadly to white collar firms of various sizes all over the country but have been unable to get an interview.

Anecdotal, but from what I've personally seen -- it appears that the people getting white collar defense jobs either have several years of on-point federal prosecution experience and/or the pedigree of a T14 or better school. White collar clients are elitist in my experience, especially ones with federal cases. Unfortunately state level cases (ID theft, forgery, internal embezzlement, etc.) are by nature usually smaller in scope and lower dollar value than the types of cases filed by USAOs. The basic skills are in many ways parallel though but I don't think employers or white collar clients think of that way. I handle complex cases, but my definition of complex is very different than an AUSA's idea of complex.

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polareagle

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Re: LEO ----> white collar defense/investigations

Post by polareagle » Fri Aug 21, 2020 9:23 pm

My only experience is in biglaw white collar, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. Depending on how geographically flexible you are/how long you're willing to wait, I think the progression here might be:

1. try to get into a respected local big city DA /AG's office, where your local ties and LEO experience are most likely to be valued, spend a couple/few years there getting trials under your belt (you *might* be able to get some white collar work, especially at an AG's office, but even if not, you're doing this for the trial experience)

2. try to get into a U.S. Attorney's office; note that the fancy big city ones tend to be more credentials and biglaw focused, so you'll probably have to move/travel a bit, but you might have some luck in smaller northeast offices; smaller offices are also a good target for you because AUSAs are less likely to be siloed into only doing one type of case, you'll probably have the best change of being hired for violent crimes/guns and drugs, but maybe you'll be able to pick up some white collar work--much easier to transition within an office than it is to get into a white collar position initially form the outside

3. apply to biglaw/midlaw/boutique firms as an experienced white collar prosecutor--with a few exceptions, this is where white collar partners at firms come from (albeit, usually they were at biglaw firms first before going to US Attorney's offices)

The benefit to trying this path is that if you can get step 1, you'll be in a pretty cool (if not hugely remunerative) job that a lot of law students want. If you can get step 2, you'll be in a very cool job that, if you're not in a huge market, can give you a really good quality of life and that a lot of lawyers covet. Then, you can make an informed decision about step 3 after you've gotten to know the market and the players.

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Re: LEO ----> white collar defense/investigations

Post by JOThompson » Fri Aug 21, 2020 9:28 pm

Agree that getting prosecution experience, especially with financial cases, is essential to OP's situation. I don't think state level experience really gets much credit from employers though.

Unfortunately AUSA positions, especially in office that handle white collar cases regularly, that's a challenge to land as a new graduate. I'd start with a county prosecutor's office, preferably in a city large enough to have some higher dollar economic crime cases, and ultimately move to an AUSA spot somewhere. State AG offices typically don't hire white collar prosecutors straight out of school, but that'd probably be another good option compared to local prosecution.

Ultimately, anyone who doesn't land white collar defense right out of law school needs to secure as much experience prosecuting financial crimes as possible. I don't think general criminal trial experience is sufficient. There are droves of us with experience trying violent crimes and DUIs, but firms aren't interested in that by itself. The boutique firms I've applied to all seem to want several years of subject matter experience with fed white collar crimes.

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Re: LEO ----> white collar defense/investigations

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Aug 24, 2020 12:12 pm

polareagle wrote:
Fri Aug 21, 2020 9:23 pm
My only experience is in biglaw white collar, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. Depending on how geographically flexible you are/how long you're willing to wait, I think the progression here might be:

1. try to get into a respected local big city DA /AG's office, where your local ties and LEO experience are most likely to be valued, spend a couple/few years there getting trials under your belt (you *might* be able to get some white collar work, especially at an AG's office, but even if not, you're doing this for the trial experience)

2. try to get into a U.S. Attorney's office; note that the fancy big city ones tend to be more credentials and biglaw focused, so you'll probably have to move/travel a bit, but you might have some luck in smaller northeast offices; smaller offices are also a good target for you because AUSAs are less likely to be siloed into only doing one type of case, you'll probably have the best change of being hired for violent crimes/guns and drugs, but maybe you'll be able to pick up some white collar work--much easier to transition within an office than it is to get into a white collar position initially form the outside

3. apply to biglaw/midlaw/boutique firms as an experienced white collar prosecutor--with a few exceptions, this is where white collar partners at firms come from (albeit, usually they were at biglaw firms first before going to US Attorney's offices)

The benefit to trying this path is that if you can get step 1, you'll be in a pretty cool (if not hugely remunerative) job that a lot of law students want. If you can get step 2, you'll be in a very cool job that, if you're not in a huge market, can give you a really good quality of life and that a lot of lawyers covet. Then, you can make an informed decision about step 3 after you've gotten to know the market and the players.
Second this advice. In certain DA's/AG's offices, you can specialize in financial crimes and/or develop a good reputation with the local USAO. Both would help.

One more option to consider is using a clerkship or clerkships to make the transition. You have one half of the resume down, and a clerkship at any level would help reassure firms you can handle the other half: research and writing on complex issues. Obviously landing one is easier said than done, but with your public service background I bet you could find a position with an intermediate state court, use that as a springboard for a state supreme court, and, with the right grades and good recommendations from your judge(s), land a federal district clerkship. If you make good impressions and apply widely I think that's all within reach, since many judges—at all levels—worked as prosecutors and have a lot of respect for law enforcement and would appreciate your background. It's a long path, but could really help you move into white-collar work.

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Re: LEO ----> white collar defense/investigations

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Aug 24, 2020 9:00 pm

OP here. Thank you for the responses. I'm glad to see there are some realistic paths and I'm willing to take whatever steps are necessary to get there.

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