The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Billy Jacobson, Partner—Litigation/Investigations
Billy Jacobson focuses his practice on FCPA and white collar enforcement, representing corporates, individuals, and financial institutions. Billy has over 25 years of experience, having served as the chief compliance officer and co-general counsel of a global oilfield services company, as a federal prosecutor—including as assistant chief for FCPA Enforcement in DOJ’s Fraud Section, and in private practice. Billy’s expertise both in corporate compliance and corporate criminal defense is a rare combination that serves clients well.
Billy is Chambers-rated for both FCPA and white collar enforcement generally.
Billy’s practice currently includes the representation of a large international engineering and construction company being investigated for FCPA and U.K. Bribery Act violations by the DOJ, SEC, and U.K. SFO; companies facing potential sanctions by the World Bank; individuals in connection with the VW emissions investigation cases; and several individuals in various FCPA investigations. He also serves as compliance counsel for several companies and private equity firms.
Billy received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.A. from Tufts University.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My practice is white collar criminal defense, investigations, and compliance, with a heavy focus on FCPA and anti-corruption. The practice includes every aspect of FCPA work, including: (1) defense of large companies in government enforcement matters; (2) internal investigations for companies; (3) compliance assessments, audits, and counseling for companies; and (4) the representation of executives in government investigations and enforcement matters. Beyond FCPA, the practice also involves the representation of companies in investigations and sanctions proceedings brought by multi-lateral development banks like the World Bank and the African Development Bank. These proceedings are increasingly common. I also handle white collar matters unrelated to the FCPA, such as criminal investigations of antitrust/competition, sanctions, and environmental issues.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent both large companies and individuals.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Some examples of recent cases include the following: (1) representing the engineering, procurement, and construction company KBR in a DOJ, SEC, U.K. SFO investigation; (2) serving as the independent compliance monitor of Braskem, a large Brazilian petrochemical company; (3) serving as compliance and investigations counsel for a large oil and gas exploration company; (4) conducting internal investigations for one of the world’s largest oil field services companies; and (5) representing a large engineering contractor before the World Bank’s enforcement arm.
How did you choose this practice area?
I knew I wanted to be involved in criminal law since junior high school when I saw an older cousin serve as a state prosecutor in Chicago. I was (and still am) attracted to the high stakes inherent in criminal investigations and prosecutions for both individuals and companies. Every case is different, and solving the who, what, and why of an investigation fascinates me. It is also very rewarding to counsel clients through what is often their biggest and most important problem.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Given the international focus of my work, it is quite common to start the day very early with calls and video conferences with folks all over the world. The day is usually quite hectic from 7 to 11 a.m. These days, we are conducting more and more substantive work over video, from client meetings to witness interviews to compliance assessments. Meetings with the DOJ, the SEC, and other regulators are also quite common.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
General litigation skills, including writings skills, are important to this practice area. It also is helpful to serve as a government prosecutor to learn how the other side is thinking about a case.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
The most challenging aspect of this practice area is also what makes it the most exciting, i.e., the stakes are enormous. For both individuals and companies, criminal investigations can be all-consuming and stressful and can have dramatic consequences. Keeping this in mind, but also not being shaken by it; keeping matters in perspective; and not losing objectivity are important and can be quite challenging.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Allen & Overy has elite criminal practitioners and investigators all over the globe, from the U.S. to Europe to Africa to Asia to Australia. Having been at a few firms over the course of my career, I have never before encountered a high-quality global investigations practice as exists at A&O. The group also is a collaborative one, which makes a huge difference. We don’t compete with one another (as you find at some firms), but rather work with one another to best serve the client.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Junior lawyers in this practice area do whatever they prove themselves capable of doing. I have had third-year lawyers running very large cases because they have proven that they could handle it. Typical assignments include reviewing documents looking for evidence of crimes, preparing for interviews, taking notes in interviews, conducting interviews, preparing for meetings with government prosecutors, and reviewing and revising company compliance policies and procedures.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
I see this practice area only growing over time. Unfortunately, corruption and fraud are as old as humans themselves and show no sign of abating. And, governments increasingly are realizing the importance of coordinating with one another in investigating corruption. This means that companies operating in challenging parts of the world have to be constantly vigilant in terms of monitoring their compliance and improving their compliance programs. It also means that, from time-to-time, most companies will face some degree of government scrutiny.