One of my favorite lawyer songs is the Warren Zevon classic "Lawyers, Guns and Money". I was reminded of that song when I sat on a panel on Wednesday with Dan Chapman and Mike Volkov, where we discussed recent enforcement actions and due diligence under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Dan is the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) at Parker Drilling here in Houston and one of the points he raised was the company's need to put their outside counsel through FCPA due diligence similar to other vendors. He said that law firms would yell, scream, kick and whine vociferously that their collective honor was being questioned but Dan made clear that foreign (and sometimes US) outside counsel often deal with foreign governmental officials.
It's been since the last millennium since I practiced law in a law firm, other than in my current incarnation as a solo practitioner. So to say things have changed for law firms in the 12+ years since I practiced with other lawyers might be saying that 'water is wet'. I thought about how much things have changed as I was perusing this week's edition of the Texas Lawyer and saw an article, entitled "Simple Steps to Prevent Fraud at a Firm", by Jacob Harris, Assistant District Attorney for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, Specialized Crimes Division. Harris believes that when lawyers focus on the practicing of law and relegate everyday business responsibilities to non-lawyers, they expose the firm to theft and fraud. He writes that the best way for lawyers to reduce their law firm's fraud risk "begins with the attorneys in charge getting more involved with their firm's everyday business affairs." To this end Harris proposes five "simple, routine tasks that significantly lower a firm's fraud risk."
Harris ends by noting that "by understanding how a [law] firm is vulnerable to fraud and making the proper adjustments to business practices, a firm can minimize its everyday fraud risk." I found it useful to review some of these basic controls that my colleague Henry Mixon continually preaches on, many law firms neglect these basic controls. Dan Chapman's comments on law firms as third party service providers who represent companies in front of government officials should also let lawyers know that companies may well begin anti-bribery due diligence on them. US law firms with international clients should also remember that if they represent a UK company in the US, it is the US law firm which is the international entity and that a UK company may be required under the UK Bribery Act to perform due diligence and require Bribery Act compliant anti-bribery terms and conditions included in the engagement letter.
Visit the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog, hosted by Thomas Fox, for more commentary on FCPA compliance, indemnities and other forms of risk management for a worldwide energy practice, tax issues faced by multi-national US companies, insurance coverage issues and protection of trade secrets.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2012
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