The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Hartley M. K. West, Attorney—Government Enforcement Defense, Investigations, & Monitorships
Hartley West is an accomplished trial lawyer with extensive experience in white collar criminal and asset forfeiture matters. She has handled cases and investigations involving alleged violations of antitrust, trade secret, securities fraud, tax fraud, health care fraud, money laundering, public corruption, national security, and export enforcement laws. These matters often involve a connection between Asia-Pacific and the U.S.
Before joining Kobre & Kim, Ms. West served as a prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California—most recently as deputy chief of its Economic Crimes and Securities Fraud Section. Earlier in her career, she clerked for the Honorable John T. Noonan, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
I focus on complex white collar criminal and asset forfeiture matters, and I specialize in cross-border representations. Due to Kobre & Kim’s conflict-free model, I am often brought in by referral law firms as special counsel and rarely handle repeat clients. I have handled cases involving alleged criminal antitrust, trade secret and economic espionage, securities and other types of fraud, and money laundering violations. I also handle internal investigations and play a role in the firm’s burgeoning whistleblower practice.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent a wide variety of individuals and organizations from the technology, biotech, pharmaceutical, and financial industries—no surprise given that the San Francisco Bay Area is a technology, biotech/pharma, and fintech hub! These clients range from tiny startups to widely known corporate entities. Due to our firm’s focus on cross-border disputes and investigations, the majority of my clients come from North America and Asia.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I have represented multiple Asia-based companies in cases alleging theft of trade secrets, as well as economic espionage, and am currently representing a Chinese technology company in challenging export enforcement actions taken by the U.S. government.
I have represented a Fortune 50 company in a DOJ antitrust investigation involving a joint venture in Asia and a major pharmaceutical company in another criminal antitrust investigation.
In the traditional financial fraud arena, I have represented U.S. and foreign companies and individuals who are alleged to have violated securities laws in matters before both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice. I have represented a trading firm in a criminal investigation of alleged “spoofing” violations, as well as cryptocurrency companies and affiliated individuals in connection with DOJ investigations and allegations of sale of unregistered securities.
How did you choose this practice area?
I fell in love with criminal law in law school. After a few years practicing criminal defense in private practice, I spent 15 years with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of California investigating and prosecuting fraud, national security, and other white collar crimes. Many of the cases required coordination with other countries through Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties to obtain documentary evidence, interview witnesses, or extradite defendants. Now with Kobre & Kim, I have the opportunity to apply this experience to assist clients facing criminal investigation or prosecution.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
I typically wake up at 5:35 (because it is more palatable than 5:30) and check emails for anything urgent. Assuming there is no work emergency, I work out—usually a run or power yoga—between 6:00 and 7:00. I use runs to think through thorny legal issues and yoga to stop thinking and be present. Between 7:00 and 8:00, I help get my kids ready for school and out the door, sometimes while juggling emails or calls. By 8:15, I am typically responding to emails or reviewing briefs on the ferry. Once I am in the city, it is pretty much nonstop between meetings and calls until I head home. After helping my kids with homework and getting them fed and to bed, I get an undisturbed chunk of time to get through more emails and talk with clients and colleagues in my Asia matters.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Having the opportunity to be on both sides of the criminal bar is a terrific advantage, allowing an attorney visibility into likely strategies and challenges for one’s adversary. Plus you cannot beat the trial and writing experience. And legal writing, in my view, is an incredibly important skill that many attorneys should put more effort into perfecting.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
The need to think creatively. As a prosecutor, you read the law, review the witness statements and documents, and decide whether to ask the grand jury to indict. As a defense attorney, you need to brainstorm innovative strategies and novel arguments.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I enjoy helping my clients navigate what are typically new and frightening circumstances to achieve the best result possible. For individuals and small companies, this is almost certainly the first time they have encountered the criminal justice system, and it can feel quite overwhelming. For larger companies who are more sophisticated in dealing with, for instance, grand jury subpoenas, the process may not feel scary, but it is still important and one that they take extremely seriously (for good reason).
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Perhaps the biggest misconception is that criminal defense attorneys are unethical. The vast majority of criminal defense attorneys, in my experience on both sides of the aisle, are extremely committed to the rules of ethics, and our justice system truly requires zealous advocacy on both sides to make it work.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
At most firms, including my former firm, junior attorneys review documents and take notes at witness interviews, sometimes also taking the first crack at drafting important documents like deposition outlines, briefs, and investigation reports. At Kobre & Kim, we do not have junior associates. Instead, analysts—extremely smart college graduates from the top universities—have these opportunities under attorney supervision. And our clients benefit from the cost savings.