I conclude this five-podcast exploration of working with monitors, where I have been joined by Don Stern, Managing Director, Corporate Monitors and Consulting Services at Affiliated Monitors, Inc. (the sponsor of this five-part series) on working with monitors. In this final episode we consider lawyers using monitors, most typically where the clients are under investigation for some regulatory issue, such as a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action.
Stern said the biggest mistake lawyers make is to wait too long before bringing in an independent monitor. His experience is that if you wait until after the conclusion of a matter, you have lost valuable time and potentially cost yourself money, in the form or higher fines and penalties, by waiting. The government expects compliance shortcomings to be remediating during the pendency of an investigation. A monitorship can even begin before self-reporting to the government. This is because a company should want to find the problem before it voluntarily reports the problem to the government. In this manner, the company could receive get the credit for having done so. It also allows the company to package the entire process “in a way to say not only we discovered the problem, not only are we reporting the problem, but we fixed the problem. We did with an independent third party and we may even want to keep that third party with us to independently assess how we do going forward. That’s very persuasive to prosecutors and I’ve certainly seen situations where in some cases it’s resulted in a declination or in a significantly diminished” fine and penalty.
This is using an independent monitor in a pro-active manner which demonstrates how serious the company is about compliance. It can also be a way to demonstrate any illegal conduct may simply have been an outlier and does not reflect the values, culture and the way the company generally does business. This can provide quite a positive story to present to prosecutors, particularly under the new FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy.
If your company is active in the remediation phase, particularly through an independent monitorship, it is looking at the problem in a holistic approach. It is more than assessing that problem, coming up with some solutions and then implementing the solutions. More importantly an organization is taking that information and looping it back in, in a literally a feedback loop so the companies can improve their compliance program. This is an approach which can be persuasive to regulators.
Stern noted this approach is even more critical for what he called ‘repeat customers’ or recidivist actors. He said government regulators are becoming much more sophisticated in understanding whether a compliance program is simply a paper program. The government wants to know if this a real program. One clear indicia is the feedback loop from an assessment by an independent monitor looping the information back to the company, making changes, testing to see whether the changes are real changes are working changes.
One final area that using an independent monitor is in the area of credibility. One thing I have consistently heard from white-collar practitioners perhaps the most important thing in any FCPA investigation or enforcement action is credibility with the prosecutors. By having a truly independent monitor who is even independent of the outside counsel, who may be heading up an investigation and assessing the compliance program; is one more way to bring that credibility to a, in front of the prosecutors. Stern noted that as the former US Attorney for Massachusetts, your reputation in representing clients before the government is absolutely critical. Having that independence as a monitor can aid a company by giving credibility to their compliance program efforts and this can pay off with real benefits in terms of lesser penalties all the way to a declination.
For more information on how an independent monitor can help improve your company’s ethics and compliance program, visit our sponsor Affiliated Monitors at www.affiliatedmonitors.com.