The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Neil MacBride—Co-Head, White Collar Criminal Defense
and Government Investigations Group
Neil MacBride is co-chair of Davis Polk’s White Collar Criminal Defense and Government Investigations Group. Based in Washington DC, he focuses on government enforcement actions, internal investigations, congressional investigations, and complex civil litigation.
Neil has served in all three branches of government. Before joining Davis Polk in 2014, he served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, one of the most prominent federal prosecutor’s offices in the country. There he took on many cases of national and international significance. He supervised the 9/11, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden investigations, and was responsible for the prosecution of several high-profile defendants involved in terror plots, financial fraud and public corruption cases, as well as the convictions of 26 Somali pirates. Neil also oversaw high-profile civil litigation on behalf of the United States, including the defense of the Affordable Care Act.
Before his appointment as U.S. Attorney, Neil served as the Associate Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice. He also served as Chief Counsel and Staff Director for then-Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia under then-U.S. Attorney Eric Holder.
Neil earned his B.A. from Houghton College and his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. Following law school, he clerked for the Honorable Henry Coke Morgan, Jr., U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia.
Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.
My practice principally involves criminal, regulatory and congressional investigations, as well as government-facing civil litigation. I advise clients on how to best anticipate and mitigate risk in these areas.
My matters have included advising clients in connection with foreign corruption, economic sanctions, cybersecurity risks, health care fraud, False Claims Act violations, market manipulation, insider trading, securities, and procurement and tax fraud. It is increasingly common for government authorities from multiple jurisdictions in the United States and around the world to be involved in these matters, and civil litigation often follows. My trial practice is also wide ranging. I’ve conducted more than 25 jury trials and dozens of bench trials throughout my career.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent major corporations across a variety of industries, multinational financial institutions, Boards of Directors and individuals. For example, I have recently represented Cisco, ExxonMobil, AstraZeneca, several global banks, a defense contractor and a medical device manufacturer. Other clients include those in the aerospace and defense, accounting, mining and automotive industries.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
My cases span a variety of subject matters and include both civil cases and government investigations.
This includes investigations and inquiries by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Consumer Fraud Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) and other U.S. and foreign regulators, concerning areas such as corruption, deceptive marketing practices, cybersecurity risks, benchmarking manipulation, economic sanctions, and the False Claims Act.
Recent matters include securing declinations from the DOJ and SEC in an FCPA investigation of Cisco; representing ExxonMobil in a lawsuit against the Treasury Department under the Administrative Procedures Act and the U.S. Constitution seeking to overturn an unlawful sanctions penalty; representing a global pharmaceutical company in litigation filed under the Anti-Terrorism Act against a number of large pharma companies; and representing a major medical device manufacturer in parallel criminal, civil, regulatory and congressional investigations of potential adulteration, misbranding, and sales and marketing issues. I have also represented executives from multiple automotive companies in connection with an industrywide inquiry triggered by the VW emissions investigation.
How did you decide to practice in your area?
I always had a deep interest in the intersection of law and public policy, which has particular implications in criminal law, both on the prosecution side and defense side. Whether serving as a federal law clerk, an AUSA, Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Attorney or Davis Polk partner, that connection has been a theme throughout my career.
What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?
My days can take me from preparing for and conducting a witness interview or deposition, to a meeting at the DOJ, to a presentation to senior management at a client. I also spend a significant amount of time with the teams on my cases, developing strategy and drafting arguments and defenses. I travel frequently to our New York office, and given the nature of a global practice like mine, a typical week can also involve a trip abroad.
What is the best thing about your practice area?
What I enjoy most is helping sophisticated clients solve their most complex problems. The cases I work on present complicated and often evolving issues, and I love working with a team to tackle those and develop a strategy to obtain the best possible result for the client. I’m also fortunate that the level of talent of the lawyers and legal staff at Davis Polk is as high as I’ve ever experienced.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
It’s similar to the above. Clients entrust us with highly sensitive, high-stakes matters. Often their businesses and reputations are on the line. The responsibility is significant.
And because I often work with multinational companies on investigations of their operations in Asia or Europe—and as investigations generally become more global in nature and involve multiple foreign regulators—there is a fair amount of travel and coordination across many time zones, which can present challenges.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
I recommend seeking out opportunities to appear in court or in mock proceedings. Pro bono work is also an excellent way to develop your litigation skills and gain on your feet experience early in your career.
I am also a huge advocate of public service. Government experience provides a great foundation for this type of work.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?
One misconception is that criminal defense work is black and white—guilty or not guilty. In most cases, it is much more complicated than that. The issues at hand are quite complex and nuanced.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm, and how has it evolved since you have been at the firm?
Davis Polk has one of the most distinguished white collar criminal defense and government investigations practices in the world. Our team includes some of the most highly respected criminal defense lawyers, many of whom served with distinction as prosecutors or senior officials at the White House, DOJ and SEC. This unmatched experience in private practice and government, and the firm’s commitment to encouraging public service, strengthens our practice and our culture.
There is also a real camaraderie and esprit de corps here. It was a big part of what drew me to Davis Polk, and it remains one of the things I enjoy most about my job.
What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?
When I’m not in the office, I spend most of my time with my family. I do enjoy the occasional round of golf, and I always say that I’m a frustrated high school history teacher at heart, so you can often find me reading a history book.