Do I Really Need a Lawyer?

The story of Zachary Warren in yesterday’s New York Times is a cautionary tale of modern complex investigations. Mr. Warren is a 29-year-old former federal appellate law clerk and graduate of Georgetown Law School. After graduating from Stanford he knew he wanted to go to law school. But first he took a job at the prestigious white-shoe firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf. He started as a paralegal helping partners collect debts from clients. He was later promoted to “client relations manager.” Dewey imploded in 2012 and its leaders have been indicted over a series of financial missteps including a 2010 bond offering.

Early last year, Zach got a call from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and he answered questions that he thought were mere background to the investigation, since he had left the firm before the bond offering. He did not hire an attorney to assist him. In October, the SEC reached out to Zach and asked to set up a meeting. They did not issue a subpoena; Zach was under no obligation to comply. But he was eager to help and apparently had no clue he was a target himself. Again, he did not hire a lawyer, even after the SEC called back and told him an assistant district attorney would sit in and, according to government sources, even after he was told it would be a good idea.

As the Times reports it, the November 15 interview was a disaster: the ADA took over from the SEC and became increasingly accusatory and belligerent when Zach could not recall conversations or answer questions about documents he had not seen in years. He was accused of lying and, worse, arrogance. He was indicted four months later, arrested and released on a $200,000 bond.

There is no question that Zachary Warren should have hired an attorney the minute the district attorney’s office called. No matter how solid his background, how prestigious the firm targeted, or how confident he was in his own innocence, he would have benefitted from independent advice from someone used to working with prosecutors. In some cases, there is little a lawyer can do to head off a prosecution. But the Warren case looks different: a lawyer would have prepared him for the interview, advised him about his exposure, and possibly prevented the indictment.

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