People considering becoming whistleblowers to expose a government fraud often ask what the process will be like. They want to know what it is like to be a relator in a False Claims Act, or qui tam, case. While no one answer to that question fits all situations, there are some general answers that tend to hold true across the cases. I can think of three words to describe the experience – work, patience, and satisfaction.
The “work” phase of the case involves working with counsel and then government lawyers and investigators to explain, understand, and develop the facts of the case. The work in a False Claims Act case usually begins when the relator collaborates with his or her legal team to put together the complaint and the disclosure statement, which become the roadmap for government lawyers and investigators. The work continues when the whistleblower teaches the government about the fraud, the key facts, and the key players. And the work frequently recurs sporadically during the government’s investigation, as the relator and counsel respond to government questions about documents and interview statements.
The “patience” concept reflects the reality that these cases typically take several years to reach resolution. Relators must be patient and able to cope well with periods of silence from the government – months when government feedback becomes limited, or the government’s investigation proceeds outside of the view of the relator. For the most part, relators who are counseled in advance about the typical lifespan of a False Claims Act case fare well on the patience front.
Finally, relators often feel great “satisfaction” from their work in exposing a government fraud and helping the government investigate it. This satisfaction occurs throughout the process, as the relator’s input often becomes a vital part of the investigation. The satisfaction can continue, of course, in the event that a favorable resolution produces a relator’s share of the government’s recovery. Most of all, relators are happy to be doing the right thing.
A “good” relator will have a better experience in this process. What makes a good relator? Several things. First, a good relator has accurate information that can be corroborated by documents or other witnesses. A good relator has credibility and has confidence in the facts he or she is alleging. A good relator enjoys the opportunity to sit with government lawyers and investigators to explain the fraud, the details, and the actors involved. A good relator is able to set aside irrelevant gripes he or she may have against the target company and has the ability to focus on the fraud at issue. Lastly, a good relator responds well to the work required, has a reasonable amount of patience, and is happy to do the right thing by exposing the government fraud.