FCPA expert transitions to private practice

By Lori Atherton
U-M Law

It’s been a year since Kara Brockmeyer retired from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) after spending 17 years with the organization. She transitioned to the other side of the table, and is now a litigation partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Debevoise & Plimpton. A member of the white collar and regulatory defense and strategic crisis response and solutions groups, she represents companies and individuals in government investigations and handles internal investigations for companies in which their board of directors or management has identified issues that need to be reviewed.

“Not surprisingly, given my background and expertise, the majority of what I’m doing focuses on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and allegations of foreign bribery or corruption,” said Brockmeyer, who spent her last five and a half years with the SEC as head of its FCPA enforcement unit. “This can mean representing a U.S. company that’s doing business abroad and has run into problems or has questions, or representing a foreign company that issues stocks in the United States and is subject to U.S. laws. I also do a lot of advising for both domestic and international clients on how to stay out of trouble.”

Brockmeyer joined the SEC as a staff attorney in 2000 after working in private practice in Chicago, where she focused on securities law and complex commercial litigation. She worked her way up the ranks at the SEC, becoming a supervisor, assistant director, and eventually chief of the FCPA unit. During her tenure, she conducted major investigations in all areas of SEC enforcement, including financial reporting, broker-dealer and investment advisor violations, insider trading, and Ponzi schemes. Given the nearly two decades she spent at the SEC, it’s clear that Brockmeyer thrived there.

“It’s a phenomenal place to work, particularly for a young attorney, because you get a tremendous amount of experience,” she said. “If you want to practice securities law, it’s a great place to spend some time because you are going to see cutting-edge securities enforcement, even as a junior member of the staff, and you are going to be sitting across from some of the leading practitioners in the securities bar on the other side.”

Brockmeyer’s first exposure to the FCPA came when she was an assistant director. The group she began leading was in the midst of a yearlong investigation involving Halliburton and other foreign companies that were accused of bribing Nigerian officials to win oil contracts.

“I loved it,” she said of the case. “Halliburton couldn’t have been a better introduction to the FCPA because factually, it was a fascinating case, and it combined both my securities and international interests. When I was given the opportunity to take over as chief of the FCPA unit, I jumped at it.

“One of the things I’ve always liked about litigation is the puzzle-solving aspect to it,” she added. “The FCPA is complicated by the fact that many times, the documents, evidence, and witnesses are located overseas, so it’s not just dealing with U.S. laws, it’s also dealing with blocking statutes in parts of Europe or privacy laws that differ or the Chinese state secrets or archives law. That’s fascinating to me, how you can work through different international issues that are in completely different legal regimes, and get to the answer that you need.”

Brockmeyer said some of her proudest accomplishments with the SEC occurred while she was head of the FCPA unit. She and her team of attorneys and forensic accountants investigated FCPA violations involving anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions. Under her leadership, the SEC increased its level of international cooperation in major investigations, which led to the resolution of global bribery cases involving Dutch telecommunications company VimpelCom and Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, as well as New York-based Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, whose bribery scheme played out in Africa.

As FCPA unit chief, Brockmeyer also co-authored the Resource Guide to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, jointly published by the SEC and the Department of Justice, which is considered the definitive government-issued guide on the FCPA.

“Its main focus was to give businesses, particularly compliance officers, an authoritative place to go to find out what the FCPA law means and how they should comply with it,” Brockmeyer explained.

Before she became the FCPA unit chief, she also founded and was the co-head of the Cross-Border Working Group, an interdisciplinary initiative that addressed accounting fraud by companies based overseas.

“It was really a multi-divisional effort,” Brockmeyer said of the group. “It began with staff in the enforcement division, and then it spread to other divisions in the SEC to clamp down on companies that were coming into the U.S. market without going through the IPO process, or the proper vetting process. Some of the changes that were brought about as a result of the group—for example, requiring companies that are going through a reverse merger process to have a ‘seasoning’ time before they can enlist on an exchange—had a big impact on the fraud we were seeing, which was challenging to deal with.”

In her law firm role, Brockmeyer travels often—sometimes on a moment’s notice—which wasn’t a regular occurrence when she was with the SEC. Her career advice, particularly for women, whom she noted still leave the legal profession more often than men, “is to realize there are times you may be more hard-charging in your career, and there are times when you may want more of a balance. My son was a toddler when I went from the law firm to the SEC, which was a terrific place to raise a family, mostly because I didn’t have to travel and the hours were more regular. My children are older now, so it’s easier for me to fly all over the world because my client needs me there. View your career as a continuum and think about the different paths you may want to take at different times.”