United States: GIR Names White Collar Defense And Investigations Chair Jodi Avergun To The Top 100 Women In Investigations Survey
Last Updated: July 19 2018

I knew that a defence and investigations practice was right for me because it offered me the perfect combination of things I love and things I am highly skilled at. I have always been very good at figuring out why things go wrong and coming up with solutions to prevent them from happening again. In addition, I am naturally and by training an excellent judge of character and an intuitive investigator as a result of my lengthy tenure as a federal prosecutor.

The practice still requires those skills, though, of course, changes in technology – such as artificial intelligence for document review – have materially improved how we can narrow issues and get to the crux of a matter sooner than before.

I have been very fortunate to have many highlights in my career, and it is hard to limit it to just one. Certainly, being elected to the partnership of Cadwalader was the pinnacle of my professional life in private practice. Being part of the storied 225-year history of Cadwalader, which was the first Wall Street firm to elect a woman to equity partnership in the 1940s, is a dream come true. But perhaps a different kind of highlight was running a number of sensitive investigations in Colombia which, combined, ultimately brought down the leadership of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Norte de Valle cartel. These were extremely dangerous but incredibly important assignments at that time and, at least in part, these cases helped move Colombia from a war-torn narco-state to the thriving western democracy it is today.

My first big opportunity came quite early in my career. I was given the responsibility to handle an important and somewhat challenging firm client. Ultimately, I tried a case in federal court on his behalf when I was just two years out of law school. That case led me to my move to the government and my work as a federal prosecutor and then ultimately to Cadwalader.

I have been fortunate not to have faced many barriers. I have worked for and with male and female colleagues who appreciated me for my skills and strongly supported me throughout my career. I can cite one self-inflicted barrier: I never served as a judicial clerk. In retrospect, working day-to-day with a judge would have been intellectually and professionally challenging and would certainly have helped me in my career.

I am a highly pragmatic person. This enables me to advise a client as to how to fashion a reasonable investigation that is designed to get to an efficient answer. I am also an outstanding listener and rarely prejudge an outcome. I find that too many attorneys who conduct interviews during investigations approach their tasks with a pre-conceived notion of what occurred and, as a result, they focus their questions on supporting that judgement. I have learned over the years to carefully listen to what the witness is saying and how they are saying it. This enables me to follow up on responses without losing track of the ultimate goal of the interview.

I am a mum to young adults who live in different cities from me. Keeping track of them and reading between the lines of their communications with me and their dad keeps my investigative skills quite sharp.

I'll never forget that a former employer told me that situational awareness was the most important skill that I could bring to my job. She meant that having a deep understanding of my client and the key elements that impacted it – whether that client was a business, an individual, a professional sports league or a US federal agency – would allow me to provide the best advice possible to that client. She also told me to never go into a meeting without knowing the most recent news about that client.

The worst advice I ever received was from a partner at my first law firm. He told me that I was too short to command the respect of a jury, so that I should not strive to be a trial attorney. Twenty years and countless successful verdicts later, I think I have proven him wrong.

Unquestionably, the big talking point is the GDPR and how it will impact how we can collect data in cross-border investigations. All of my clients are putting in place processes and procedures to comply with the new law without sacrificing their ability to review emails and other data pertinent to an investigation. I rarely have a conversation with other colleagues in investigations that does not address GDPR readiness.

I would like to see law firms and other legal industry participants emulate what we have done at Cadwalader. We have an award-winning sponsorship initiative – the task force for women's issues. Identifying sponsors for highly performing women, and then planning with those sponsors and their women protégées as to how to enable them to reach the heights of success in their own legal careers, has been a tremendous opportunity for me. I work with subject matter experts, firm leaders, many of the top women partners in the firm and the next generation of successful attorneys all at once. Critical to the success of the task force has been the absolute commitment that firm management has to the idea of gender equality. Looking broadly at the industry, a commitment in words accompanied by an investment of resources to train women lawyers, plus a series of financial incentives to law firms that comply with gender equality goals, would all help move us much closer to gender equality.

When I was a child I was terrified of dialling the operator to ask for telephone numbers. Now I make my living asking probing questions! How ironic.

Egypt in the midst of the Arab Spring is the most interesting place my job has taken me. A client suspected misconduct by one of its employees, and it needed to be stopped immediately before reputational harm and potential criminal liability ensued. Having braved Colombian jungles, narco-terrorists and death threats from angry defendants, I was not daunted by the thought of the protests taking place throughout the Middle East. Perhaps that was naïve of me. But it was by far the most interesting, meaningful place in terms of time and place than anything I did before or will likely do in the future.

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