In-House Lawyers

Acquitted In-House Lawyer Warns of the 'Criminalization' of Law Practice

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An in-house lawyer acquitted on charges of obstructing a government agency’s inquiry told lawyers on Monday that she learned an important lesson during the ordeal.

“If you’re going to write letters to agencies,” Lauren Stevens said, “have your outside counsel sign them.” Corporate Counsel has a story on the speech and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog has an interview with Stevens, who has retired from her position as associate general counsel at GlaxoSmithKline.

Stevens was acquitted last year on charges that she withheld documents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in its inquiry into possible off-label marketing of the antidepressant Wellbutrin.

Stevens told the Law Blog the case represents a new era. “I think the criminalization of the practice of law is here, and I don’t think it’s necessarily going away,” she said. “The government will continue to be aggressive in looking at in-house counsel.”

A federal judge acquitted Stevens in the middle of her trial last year, citing the fact that she had relied on advice from outside counsel in withholding material from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that was requested but not subpoenaed. The judge said Stevens should not have been charged.

Stevens told a meeting of the Association of Corporate Counsel on Monday that GlaxoSmithKline agreed to cooperate in the FDA probe, and assembled a legal team of in-house lawyers and the outside firm King & Spalding.

Stevens said outside counsel drafted the response but she signed the documents because of fears that if “we fronted the law firm to the FDA, it would raise a red flag.”

During the speech and in the Law Blog interview, Stevens talked about other lessons learned. Among them: Take accurate notes of meetings because they could provide exculpatory information. And remember that the notes could be used against you.

“Although you think what you are writing will never see the light of day, you should write as if you might need to defend it on the front page of the New York Times,” she told the Law Blog. “I wouldn’t put in any personal musings or statements that could be subject to interpretation.”

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