You’re busy working at your desk, and the receptionist calls. “There are a pair of FBI agents in the lobby, and they would like to talk to you about a matter you worked on a few years ago. They know they don’t have an appointment, but they promise it won’t take long and said it’s really important. Can you come down and see them?” Or maybe they call you directly. Or show up at your home, while you’re having dinner.
Many of us have the entirely understandable urge to be cooperative citizens. But hold on — you also have obligations to your clients and to the firm. Have you thought through privilege issues? Do you have a duty to notify your current (or former) client of the contact? What do you do if the officers ask you to keep their inquiry confidential? Will you have to testify in a grand jury? What if there are national security overtones? What if you say something, and later think that wasn’t quite right?
This is a lot to process on the spur of the moment. And believe it or not, sometimes the law enforcement officials wouldn’t be too disappointed to catch you off guard — there are plenty of stories of folks who helpfully answered a law enforcement officer’s questions without counsel, then later found themselves indicted on felony charges.
So, what do you do? Try this: “Hi. Thanks for coming. While I appreciate you’ve come all this way, our firm has a procedure that I need to follow. Can I have your card? I or someone else will get back to you promptly.”
Law enforcement agents (whether from the FBI, another federal agency or a state or local agency) can be persistent. Stick to your position and just repeat the above without adding to it. If you have to repeat it 5 or even 10 times before they leave, then so be it. Be polite but firm. Then call a lawyer.
Not persuaded? Click on the attached to see what happened to the last guy who met with agents without counsel present.