Thought Leader Q&A: Sean Hecker

Who's Who Legal
Published on:
December 2, 2020
Who's Who Legal's 2020 "Business Crime Defense Thought Leaders" profiles include a Q&A with the "brilliant" Sean Hecker about his recent major wins, trends in the practice area, and what it takes to launch a new law firm.

Questions & Answers

Sean Hecker is an experienced trial lawyer whose practice focuses on white-collar criminal defence, government and internal investigations, complex civil litigation and regulatory compliance. Sean represents individuals on matters concerning alleged securities and commodities fraud, corruption (including the FCPA), accounting fraud, money laundering, tax fraud, antitrust violations, and various cryptocurrency-related matters. Sean has tried many cases to juries in federal and state court, and regularly advises clients on various legal and compliance issues.

WWL Says: "The “brilliant” Sean Hecker draws recognition for his substantive experience in representing individual and corporate clients in criminal proceedings and investigations involving various government agencies."

What drew you to a career in white-collar and corporate crime law?

I was drawn early in my career to criminal and regulatory defence work, I think initially because I found the underlying human stories compelling. Over time, I also realised that I really enjoyed representing both individuals and companies in times of crisis. Too often, there is a rush to judgement and finger-pointing when things go wrong, and I enjoy taking on the role of defending those who have had the fingers pointed at them.

Your practice is largely focused on defence work. What unique insights can you offer practitioners focused on prosecution work?

I would urge prosecutors to resist being blinded or unduly influenced by hindsight bias. It is an understandable, human instinct to allow oneself to conclude that “someone must have known” about something problematic because, in hindsight, when you line up the bad facts, it seems so entirely clear. In reality, life is much more complicated.

How does being able to advise both individuals and corporates enhance your approach to internal investigations?

Representing individuals and companies involves very different approaches and skill sets. But I do believe one can do a better job in each role if you have played the other one. Individuals, for example, worry about a rush to judgement by their employers and a fear that they will be “thrown under the bus” if prosecutors or regulators so much as hint that they see wrongdoing. Truly understanding those fears is important to being effective when representing a company and conducting an internal investigation. It informs how you speak to people in interviews, how you think about the facts, and how you advocate on behalf of your client’s employees and, thus, in many instances, your client, who is typically on the hook for actions of employees.

The reverse is also true. Understanding how a corporation must respond to a government investigation or conduct an internal investigation allows you, when representing an individual, to better anticipate how the matter will evolve over time and how best to advocate for your client. That includes effectively obtaining assistance from the company’s counsel in preparing a defence and in persuading company counsel to advocate for your client with the government. 

What developments in your jurisdiction should foreign practitioners be following and why?

Among the more significant developments are the changing standards relating to US jurisdiction across a range of legal areas, including the FCPA and corruption, money laundering and securities fraud. Recent cases, such as the Hoskins case, the Boustani case and many others, ultimately turned on issues of jurisdiction (and even venue), in terms of both how the charges were brought and the results.

How has increasing coordination among enforcement authorities globally affected your practice?

The increasing coordination has been mostly positive. It has facilitated cross-border resolutions in numerous cases that avoid “piling on” corporations that operate globally. It also means that you have to assume, more regularly, that US authorities will independently become aware of potential misconduct outside the US. That often counsels for putting a thumb on the scale in decisions about whether to voluntarily report such issues to US authorities.

Your work in US v Bogucki was recognised by the 2019 award for Most Important Court Case of the Year from WWL’s sister publication GIR. Why was the decision in this case significant? 

It was significant in terms of resisting the DOJ’s efforts to regulate heretofore unregulated markets through criminal prosecution. Judge Breyer rightly recognised that such prosecutions pose very significant due process concerns for those operating in such markets. My hope is that prosecutors will stick with cases where there is conduct that is clearly and unambiguously violative of legal and regulatory prohibitions, and not attempt to pursue as “fraud” practices that did not even violate corporate policies or industry practices.

How does Kaplan Hecker & Fink’s white-collar crime practice stand out among its competitors?

We have built a team that, collectively, boasts extremely diverse experience. We have a former chief of the criminal division from the Eastern District of New York, Marshall Miller, who also served as principal deputy assistant attorney general and chief of staff at the DOJ’s Criminal Division. We have two former senior prosecutors from the Southern District of New York: Jenna Dabbs, who handled securities fraud, terrorism and international narcotics matters and who later garnered important experience working in-house for a significant investment firm; and Michael Ferrara, who joined us recently after spending many years handling and supervising cases involving securities fraud, insider trading, money laundering, the FCPA, cybercrime and other matters. And we have multiple senior lawyers, including me, who have built our careers as criminal defence lawyers. That latter group includes Michael Bloch and Alexandra Conlon, who were public defenders for many years and are wonderful trial lawyers. We also have other lawyers who joined us after beginning their careers working at some of the best white-collar practices in the USA, including my old firm Debevoise & Plimpton; Paul Weiss; and Sullivan & Cromwell, among others.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own firm?

It can be terrifying! It was for me, in part because I already worked at a wonderful firm with wonderful people. But there are amazing rewards, including in terms of being able to take exactly the kinds of cases you want to take, and to create the exact environment in which you want to work. Be bold – you only go around once and won’t want to regret not having given it a go.

Read this article at Who's Who Legal.

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