With industry experts predicting a rise in white-collar criminal and civil cases stemming from market volatility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we spoke with Joanna Hendon, partner in Alston & Bird’s New York office and co-lead of the firm’s White Collar, Government & Internal Investigations Team, for her views on how the practice of white-collar law has changed over the years, including the growth in the number of prominent women attorneys in a practice traditionally dominated by men.
You are one of the top white-collar defense lawyers in New York. What inspired you to specialize in white-collar defense?
From my days as a young associate in the early ’90s, the lawyers I most admired – the lawyers I wanted to “be when I grew up” – were white-collar defense lawyers. Why? In my experience, these were scrupulously ethical, exacting lawyers, laser-focused on discovering “what actually happened” and then structuring a defense around those facts. Just the opposite of the stereotypical defense lawyers. These lawyers also happened to be former federal prosecutors. My interest in emulating those defense lawyers led me to apply to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I didn’t know what an assistant U.S. attorney (AUSA) was or what she did, but I knew I wanted to be the kind of defense lawyer that role seemed to produce.
How has white-collar litigation changed in the years since you have been in the practice?
When I began practice, very few big firms in New York even had a white-collar practice. Other than one or two, much of the action was with the boutique firms. That has changed. Also, when I started out, the work of a white-collar defense lawyer, even at a big firm, very broadly stated, was to cooperate with the company in order to save the individuals. The biggest change in my career has been the many incentives created by Department of Justice (DOJ) policy to get companies to cooperate with the government.
What specific client representation has stayed with you through the years and why?
I represented the insider at a leading computer technology company wrongly accused by prosecutors of insider trading with a Neuberger Berman analyst who in turn tipped hedge funds. United States v. Newman, et al. and United States v. Steinberg were probably the most renowned insider trading cases in 30 years. My client was under extraordinary pressure to plead guilty and cooperate with the government or face trial and, in all likelihood, conviction and jail. I believed he was innocent, but I also believed he would be found guilty, for a host of reasons. We refused the government’s entreaties to plead and cooperate. For two years, through two highly publicized trials, the government accused my client of criminal insider trading. The media followed suit and soon the public company where he was employed began asking why he was still at the company. It was a truly terrifying time for my client and his wife. But our advocacy and my client’s courage paid off. In the end, he was never arrested, never charged, and when the Second Circuit in a now-famous decision reversed the convictions of those who were, the panel exonerated him.
Did you have important women role models when you started practicing, and what effect did that have on your career?
Yes, the senior women in the U.S. Attorney’s Office were role models to me. When I became a prosecutor, I was 29 years old, married but without children. The women I met there – all from prominent law firms with stellar credentials – were superb trial lawyers, strategists, and managers. They were smart and tough, but they were kind as well. And the SDNY judges loved them. I think of Laurie Brecher, Deirdre Daly, Karen Seymour, and Cathy Seibel (now Judge Seibel) in particular.
As a leading female attorney in a practice traditionally dominated by men, what advice do you have for other women entering the field?
That is its own Q&A! The road is long, and for most of us not straight or smooth, particularly if you want kids. If you are flexible about your own career goals, and doggedly determined, you can raise (and know, and enjoy) your kids – while setting an example for them as a dedicated professional in a tough field. I remember hearing my son at age 7 or 8, asked by a friend: “What does your mom do?” He answered, “She helps people.”
In 2020, you were one of six new laterals who joined the firm with a focus on white-collar and internal investigations. Do you expect to see an increase in white-collar work, both criminal and civil, under the Biden Administration and, if so, in what areas?
Conventional wisdom says yes, and I agree. Pre-pandemic, during the presidential debates, every Democratic candidate appeared ready to brand the pharmaceutical industry as the new corporate villain (replacing the financial services sector). It’s almost impossible to believe, but if you go back to the debates, the unanimity on this point was breathtaking. Much has changed. The DOJ has announced its intention to focus on cyber-crime, anti-money laundering, foreign corruption, pandemic- and opioid-related fraud, and other health care fraud. Corporate and financial crime will also be in the foreground.
In New York, you joined a growing team of white-collar attorneys. How significant is it for the firm to have a white-collar practice in New York?
It’s mission-critical. I’m fortunate to be teamed with partners Brett Jaffe, co-head of the firm’s Litigation & Trial Practice Group, and Jenny Kramer, who served as an AUSA in the District of New Jersey. Together, we form the hub of our New York white-collar practice. But we also draw on an extraordinary bench of white-collar attorneys nationally, including my practice co-leader and partner, Ted Kang, who is also the head of our Washington, D.C. office’s Litigation Group; Jody Hunt, former assistant attorney general for the DOJ and head of its Civil Division; BJay Pak, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia; Mark Calloway, former U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina; and Thomas Walker, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. We are especially excited about our most recent hire, Kellen Dwyer, former deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s National Security Division, who joins Kim Peretti, a former DOJ cybercrime prosecutor, as co-leader of Alston & Bird’s National Security & Digital Crimes Team.