Lessons from Happy Valley

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Originally published in The National Law Journal - September 10, 2012.

Penn State’s missteps offer four important lessons for any organization that finds itself involved in a criminal investigation.

As a Pennsylvania State University alumnus and native central Pennsylvanian, I’ve watched the unfolding Jerry Sandusky scandal — and Penn State’s response to it — with outrage, regret and deep sadness. But I’ve also watched those events as a former federal and state prosecutor and white-collar defense attorney who has overseen hundreds of police investigations and led scores of internal investigations of organizations, large and small. From that perspective, I believe my alma mater’s missteps after learning of the grand jury investigation offer four important lessons for any organization that finds itself involved in a criminal investigation:

First, when the threat of a government investigation arises, organizations must quickly investigate internally to learn the scope of the conduct, assess their legal exposure, and chart a course of action. That course may involve cooperating with government investigators, taking proactive actions or simply preparing a defense for a later day. But none of those decisions can be made until the organization’s leaders understand what occurred through an internal investigation....

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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