Defending organizations and individuals in regulatory enforcement actions entails interacting with a complex web of federal and state administrative agencies, statutes, regulations, and rules. Federal regulatory agencies in the securities/commodities, telecommunications, and energy fields include the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Most states also have their own companion regulatory agencies and utility commissions, each with their own enforcement regimes.
Additionally, certain organizations and individuals may be subject to disciplinary investigations and action by self-regulatory organizations overseen by an administrative agency, such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority or the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. Many regulatory enforcement actions are civil proceedings; however, federal and state criminal agencies, including the Department of Justice and state Attorneys General, may share enforcement authority. Particularly egregious transgressions thus may be subject to criminal investigation and enforcement as well.
Regulatory enforcement matters are initiated in a variety of ways, including by a whistleblower tip, an agency’s own monitoring of the industry, or self-reporting by a firm or individual. Enforcement matters typically begin as a fact-finding investigation, which are often nonpublic. Agencies may have the authority to seek documents from companies, as well as to subpoena individuals to provide sworn testimony on the record. Information may be sought from third parties, as well as from firms and their current or former employees. Additionally, internal investigations conducted by independent outside counsel may precede or run in parallel with a regulatory investigation. Once an investigation is completed, enforcement personnel typically make a recommendation about the appropriate enforcement action to take, or whether to drop the matter. If approved, an enforcement action frequently, but not always, is filed as a public proceeding.
Regulatory enforcement defense attorneys counsel organizations and individuals through investigations and, if needed, litigation. Defense counsel acts as the primary contact with agency personnel, often gleaning valuable insights into an investigation’s direction and scope in the process, and presenting opportunities to advocate against further action involving a client. As a result, counsel frequently is retained early in an investigation. Likewise, regulatory enforcement attorneys regularly conduct, or represent individuals in, internal investigations. Regulatory enforcement counsel also defends clients against claims alleged in filed enforcement actions, which may proceed as an administrative hearing or as a lawsuit in the federal or state courts.
Brian Neil Hoffman, Of Counsel