Common Sense and Internal Investigations

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In-House counsel and corporate compliance officers dodge bullets everyday as they stare down the barrels of aggressive prosecutors, regulators, civil litigants, whistleblowers, disgruntled employees and shareholders prodded by trial attorneys to file derivative suits at the drop of a hat. In the face of all of these risks, internal investigations have become commonplace and a standard defensive tactic for a company to regain some leverage, learn the scope of a potential problem and then develop a plan for resolving a particular issue.

All too often, companies follow the rote formula developed in the Sarbanes-Oxley era of the early 2000s. Those same formulas are being applied in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and in more discrete global anti-corruption, money laundering, export compliance and antitrust enforcement matters. This model, while very helpful in some situations, can set up potential problems for a company. A slavish devotion to so-called “independent special counsels” can sometimes lead to erratic, costly, and less than helpful internal inquiries, which may expose a company to significant risks, depending on how the investigation was conducted.

There is an ‘art” to conducting internal investigations. An internal investigation requires a goal, a strategy and careful design. Too many practitioners develop a checklist, go down the checklist, and follow it without regard to the specific situation and client needs.

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