White Collar Defense is one of the great misnomers in law. When business people find themselves in the position of being arrested for a crime, or the target of an investigation, they reject the notion that they are like street criminals. Hence, the category of white collar defense was created in order to separate the "good" people who happen to be charged with crimes from the "bad" people.
The problem with this separate identity is that prisons don't distinguish between good and bad people, and far too many people charged with "clean" crimes, generally dealing with business and finances, fail to recognize that they are still criminal defendants. The result is that people who view themselves as a "white collar" defendant fail to take the steps necessary to obtain a truly competent defense in order to protect themselves from the very serious, and often very harsh, consequences of the criminal justice system. Indeed, it may well be argued that they need representation far more than the career or street crime defendant, as the impact on them and their family is far more severe and they are far less capable of dealing with the consequences of conviction.
Yet, the initial reaction of many people charged with "white collar" crimes is to do the very things that essentially assure them of failure. Rather than formulate a defense strategy to maximize their potential to prevail, they need to "explain" their involvement, "cooperate" with the government and try to endear themselves to the very people who are paid to convict them and put them in jail. As insane as this sounds, it is by far the most common means of addressing white collar accusations.
In addition, white collar criminal defendants frequently believe that their interests are best served by retaining an attorney who has vast experience as a former prosecutor, though little experience as a criminal defense lawyer. The idea is that former prosecutors "know" people and how the game is played, and hence are capable of using their influence with the current prosecutor to help their client. While such knowledge can be beneficial, the same can be said of experienced criminal defense lawyers who also have vast contacts with the prosecution. But unlike those who trade on their past experience as prosecutors, experienced criminal defense lawyers do not have to make concessions to trade off their contacts, and are recognized as a real threat to the prosecution when they approach to discuss a case or client.
What is terribly unfortunate is that this misguided belief that the interests of the person accused of a white collar crime causes them to sacrifice the ability to successfully defend against these accusation. A good example can be seen in a case tried by Scott Greenfield a few years back, named by the government Operation Golden Pill. The case involved 72 defendants, mostly pharmacists, who were charged with selling diverted precscription medications. Of these, 3 defendants were represented by Scott and his defense team, while the other 69 defendants were represented by attorneys from large law firms or former prosecutors. Of the group of 69, every single defendant was convicted of a felony and went to federal prison, as well as suffered the loss of their licenses, their businesses and massive property forfeitures. Under the guidance of their lawyers, every defendant in this group pleaded guilty to a special deal offered by the government.
Scott Greenfield went to trial with his group of 3 defendants. They were acquitted of all felony charges and convicted only of a misdemeanor, requiring no jail time. There were no property forfeitures involved. When news spread of this outcome, Scott started receiving calls from the other group of defendants asking if he could help them too. Unfortunately, the opportunity for them to mount a real defense had already been lost, and there was nothing to be done for them. Ironically, the legal fees charged by the large law firms to put their clients in prison vastly exceeded the fees charged by Scott Greenfield to zealously defend his clients and try the case. The lesson is that white collar defendants are still defendants, and need to realize that they must be represented by counsel who is capable and willing to fight the charges against them. There is no benefit to a defendant, white collar or otherwise, whose attorney's interests are more closely aligned with those of the government than those of his client.