And no one expects a target letter. The Department of Justice defines a “target” of federal criminal investigation as “a person as to whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant.” Federal prosecutors are encouraged to notify targets of their status and give them a chance to testify before the grand jury when such notification won’t compromise the integrity of the government’s investigation—such as by prompting the target to flee the jurisdiction or destroy evidence. When they’re given, those notifications are known as target letters.

We want our clients to avoid getting those target letters. That starts with great compliance programs and robust internal controls to avoid fraud and other malfeasance. It also takes rigorous and sensitive internal investigations to determine whether there’s a problem. If the government begins its own investigation, potential white collar defendants need careful counsel to avoid enforcement action, which can take the form of civil, criminal, and administrative proceedings, and to achieve the best possible outcome in any enforcement action that does ensue.