The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Uzo is a seasoned trial lawyer who, before joining Davis Polk, spent more than a decade prosecuting complex financial crimes and public corruption. He advises companies and individuals in connection with government, grand jury and internal investigations, and represents clients in criminal and civil trials. He has deep experience in matters involving insider trading, market manipulation, public corruption, and other areas of financial fraud.
Before joining Davis Polk in 2020, Uzo was Acting Chief of the Financial Crimes and Public Corruption Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. While in government, he led major fraud and public corruption cases, and tried numerous multi-defendant, complex cases to guilty verdicts before juries. In 2018, he served in the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller during its investigation into Russian government interference in the 2016 election, where he successfully prosecuted a former U.S. presidential campaign manager.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
As a partner in Davis Polk’s White Collar Defense & Investigations group, I represent companies and individuals in high-stakes and complex white collar defense matters. These include criminal and regulatory investigations and enforcement proceedings by government regulators such as the Department of Justice (DOJ), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Federal Reserve, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen), Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), state attorneys general and Congress.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent companies across multiple industries and individuals in criminal and regulatory investigations, as well as civil and criminal trials. Because of the sensitive nature of some of my matters, many of my clients remain confidential.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I primarily work on government and internal investigations, and criminal and civil trials in connection with matters involving fraud, financial manipulation, and other misconduct. Some of my recent matters include: representing a financial institution with respect to multiple inquiries from a range of federal and state agencies relating to the operation of the CARES Act funding, including loans processed pursuant to the Paycheck Protection Program. The inquiry involves the DOJ, the Small Business Administration, the CFPB, and various State Attorney General’s Offices and Congress; representing a senior automotive manager of a major automobile manufacturer in connection with a federal criminal investigation; representing a national consulting company in connection with investigations by the DOJ and IRS into tax matters; representing a global financial institution in connection with potential fraud in Ecuador.
How did you choose this practice area?
My passion is to help people and make a positive impact. Clients who are facing criminal charges or subject to an investigation are often going through the most difficult time in their lives. I find it personally rewarding to serve as an advocate for individuals and companies that are experiencing these trying moments. I take to heart the responsibility that comes with clients placing their trust in me to defend them at such critical points in their lives or company’s history.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
As a lead counsel on various white collar matters, I oversee the investigative and/or defense team and direct the overall strategy of the matter. A typical day may consist of meeting with clients to discern the underlying facts, preparing for and conducting key witness interviews and/or depositions, oral argument and other court appearances and hearings, presenting to or interacting with government regulators, advising the client, reviewing key documents and evidence, drafting and editing briefs and investigative reports, working with expert witnesses, and preparing for and conducting trials. I also teach and mentor associates and collaborate with counsel and partners.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
There are many valuable professional experiences and courses that will help prepare law students for a career as a white collar defense attorney. Law students may wish to intern at the DOJ, a U.S. Attorneys’ Office, the SEC, the FTC or other government entities to gain firsthand experience in the regulatory and investigative process. In addition, an internship or clerkship with a federal or state judge can provide a unique opportunity to observe trials, understand the adjudicative process and hone research and writing skills.
Law school courses that are particularly useful to white collar defense include Trial Practice, Appellate Practice, Federal and State Courts, Securities Regulation, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, advanced legal writing courses, clinics and other courses related to prosecution.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I love helping people solve difficult problems. Two of the things I most enjoy about white collar defense are the complex legal issues and intellectual challenges that arise. Whether it is negotiating with government regulators or navigating a difficult witness interview, I am constantly problem solving and strategizing. Those elements have helped push me to be a better lawyer.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Davis Polk is routinely credited for developing the first premier white collar criminal defense practice among global law firms. We continue to maintain that standard of excellence today. The depth of our experience and the sophistication of our lawyers—supported by one of the most respected corporate practices in the world—set us apart from other law firms. Our practice is further amplified by the impressive resume of government experience that is strategic and selectively focused on quality over quantity. For example, our team includes two former U.S. Attorneys, a former Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, the lead Special Counsel prosecutor in Paul Manafort’s trial, the former first-ever Chief of the SEC’s Cyber Unit and, in the most recent arrival, the former acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General of DOJ’s Criminal Division and head of the Fraud Section and FCPA Unit.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?
At Davis Polk, summer associates are afforded the opportunity to gain real and valuable experience working on white collar defense matters and government and internal investigations. Summer associates work closely with partners and associates on high-profile, significant matters involving complex legal issues. They draft documents, participate in conference calls with government regulators, go to client meetings and court, and conduct meaningful research.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
A terrific path for lawyers seeking to focus on the white collar field is to gain experience in government. Many white collar defense lawyers begin their legal careers practicing at a large law firm before joining the DOJ as an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) or as a Trial Attorney in other divisions at Main Justice. Some lawyers may spend the entirety of their careers in government service while others, like myself, may spend a number of years there before transitioning back to private practice.
I started my legal career as an associate at a private law firm where I worked for five years. Then I spent more than a decade as an AUSA in the Eastern District of Virginia, where I prosecuted dozens of financial crimes and public corruption cases and tried multiple cases. My time at the DOJ was invaluable to developing the skills that I now use in my white collar defense practice today.
Many Davis Polk alumni who practiced in the white collar field have gone on to senior positions in government, including within the DOJ, SEC, FBI, CFPB, Federal Public Defender’s Office, Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, New York State Office of the Attorney General and Congress, or to in-house positions in the business world.