The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Leslie R. Caldwell, Partner—Litigation & Trial
Leslie R. Caldwell is a nationally recognized white collar lawyer. She advises companies, individual execu-tives, and boards facing crises or government investigations.
Ms. Caldwell, former Assistant Attorney General (AAG) of the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Criminal Division, draws on her experience handling many of the most closely watched corporate criminal, fraud, and foreign bribery matters of the past two decades. She serves as a trusted advisor to numerous Fortune 500 corporations—including leading technology companies—regarding sensitive matters, such as crisis management, internal investigations, and government enforcement. Ms. Caldwell regularly advises senior executives in connection with government investigations.
She helps clients to achieve the best possible results in white collar criminal matters, internal investi-gations, DOJ and other government investigations, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulatory enforcement matters, crisis management, and other highly sensitive and confidential matters.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My practice involves representing clients in connection with a range of enforcement matters, advising companies, individual executives, and boards facing crises or government investigations. Put simply, I help clients navigate through issues that can be really threatening, both on the personal and enterprise level, that they may never have encountered and don’t know how to handle. I see myself as a strategic advisor to them, advocate for them, and partner with them, often at a time when their business is vulnerable, and the prospects of the unknown are scary.
What types of clients do you represent?
Many of my clients have a technology emphasis. I represent numerous Fortune 500 corporations, as well as leading technology and startup companies, and I’m fortunate to work with the companies themselves, boards, and individual board members.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
My work covers a wide array of white collar and other sensitive matters. This ranges from handling government-facing work, such as FCPA and other anti-corruption work, to conducting internal investigations, advising on theft of trade secrets and economic espionage, and guiding clients though other sensitive investigations. Much of my work also involves strategic crisis management and response.
How did you choose this practice area?
I was always drawn to criminal law. I like the urgency of it. I like the ability to stand by a client and be helpful in what can be one of the most challenging times that they may ever face.
At the macro level, I think I’m drawn to the psychology that is at the core of a white collar engagement: human nature, sometimes human frailty, and often human good. And when all of those things come together in a high-stakes investigation or high-profile controversy, it is very gratifying to help my clients act quickly and act wisely. Our work together has tangible effects about which real people care and by which they are impacted.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
There is no typical day. Much of my time is spent counseling clients, and one of the things that keeps the practice interesting is that you don’t always know when an unexpected event will need to take priority. In the kinds of high-stakes controversies I handle, that could be a government inquiry, a media request, or a query from an employee. And those things will take immediate priority.
In the regular course of work, other common tasks I perform include engaging in strategy development, working on legal presentations and briefs, working with associates and others on my team, and taking phone calls—a lot of them.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
One of the most important skills is to be able to learn how to react to new information and to make good, strategic decisions in real time, even as new—and sometimes unhelpful or damaging—information comes in. A key to this—which is really hard under pressure—is to develop the skill of listening. It’s not unusual for newer lawyers to want to react right away, and when they do, they sometimes react to what they think is being said and not what’s actually being said. Listening and reacting to what’s real, then adapting to it, is essential.
If you have the opportunity to be a prosecutor—particularly a federal prosecutor—that can be great experience. At the beginning, it will feel like being thrown into the fire. Prosecutors learn particularly quickly to get comfortable making decisions even when things aren’t perfect—when they don’t yet have all the facts, when they may not have all the resources, and when they don’t have all the time they’d like to think things through. Early on, they get experience standing up in court and making arguments before a judge or jury.
All of this is invaluable in private practice. In order to be most effective and put your private clients in the best possible position to navigate a crisis, it’s important to be able to help a client understand what the government is looking for and to have credibility with a prosecution team. Having done it yourself goes a long way toward being able to accomplish that.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
The stakes are high, and you are often required to make major decisions without all of the facts. In an internal investigation, for example, your client may have some, but not all of the information. Individual employees may have some, but not all of the information. And the government, with whom you are simultaneously cooperating and litigating against, may have some but not all of the information. Your client will also be facing many pressures for definitive answers—to the board, shareholders, the public, and the government.
Against that backdrop, it can be difficult to make strategic decisions. Getting the experience to do so, and getting comfortable with the unknown, are skills that come with time—and even when you have them, things are always challenging.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I already touched on the excitement of the unknown. And it is true that I never know what is coming next. I get to bring every part of my experience to work every day, and I always learn something new.
Importantly, at Latham, I work with an incredible group of people who work well together as teammates and partners. So much of what we do comes down to exercising good judgment, that it’s fantastic to have great colleagues with complementary experience to bounce things off of, offer advice, and lend support. Often, there’s not a “right” or a “wrong” answer to a client’s situation; there are a range of choices that must account for the facts (both known and unknown), the business, the political and social environment, and many other factors. Being surrounded by a constellation of truly talented, committed, and experienced colleagues helps all of us and our clients make the best choices.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Most cases are staffed leanly, providing a good deal of opportunity for hands-on experience. Junior members of my teams are often the keepers of the facts—they will have looked at the documents, understood the background and context, and prepared for each stage of the investigation. In some cases, junior lawyers are also able to get involved with interviews of even the most senior executives—helping to shape outlines, sitting in and taking notes, and gaining an understanding how all of the information will come together to create a resolution for the client.
More broadly, Latham has a dedicated program to ensure that associates can receive credit for extraordinary training opportunities—such as observing depositions and witness interviews or attending government presentations—that are not typically billed to the client. This allows junior lawyers the chance to see colleagues in action and understand how their own careers can progress.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
Latham’s white collar defense and investigations lawyers have come from and gone on to lots of interesting roles. Quite a few come to us from clerkships and the DOJ Honors Program. Others come straight from law school. It is not uncommon for our associates to leave Latham for a few years to pursue an opportunity for public service and then return to us more seasoned and with a new appreciation for the resources available to us in private practice.
Likewise, many of our lawyers go on to serve in the United States Attorney’s Offices, the White House, DOJ, and SEC and with state attorneys general. Several Latham lawyers have also gone on to become judges or professors. On the private sector side, white collar lawyers go in-house as general counsel or assistant general counsel, as well as compliance counsel or compliance officer and even cybersecurity and privacy counsel. Latham supports lawyers in a wide range of career trajectories—for example, the firm shares job openings at our clients through our Latham Alumni Network and offers a unique career coaching program for current associates.