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Harry Cassin
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At Large: Are you helping someone ‘talk smart’?

This week I’m answering a question from a reader. She asked: “I’ve just started my first job at a big law firm, and I want compliance to be the focus of my career. Do you have any advice for me?”

Here’s my advice: Whenever possible, help other people “talk smart.”

I’ll explain.

When I was in-house at an energy services company, I asked the associate general counsel what she liked about her favorite outside counsel. “He helps me talk smart,” she said. Over the next few years, I figured out what she meant.

That favorite outside counsel was an early specialist in the FCPA and OFAC sanctions, based in DC. What was his method? First, he would listen — really listen. He might ask a few short questions. Then he’d restate your problem, reducing it to its most essential parts. And finally — when he was ready — he’d propose a solution that was usually surprisingly simple.

He was deliberate; he spoke slowly and wrote in a slightly formal but plain style. He never rambled or used fancy words. He didn’t talk down to anyone or sugarcoat things, and he included just enough legal citations and technical terms to anchor his advice to the law.

As for bedside manner, he never seemed rushed. Although he had a huge practice, you felt as though you were his only client. His intense focus on your problem helped you to be focused and to understand the problem better. Finally, he was utterly non-judgmental about the cause of a problem (that’s always important when dealing with potential criminal acts).

That’s how he helped his clients (mainly in-house lawyers) “talk smart” to their in-house clients. My good luck was seeing that approach early in my work life. Later, whether I was in-house or outside, I always tried to model my service level on what I’d learned.

Now, I see things in the wider context. Helping others “talk smart” is what effective people do every day (for their clients and customers and their bosses and colleagues). The setting might change, but the goal and the ways to achieve it are surprisingly consistent.

That’s my two cents. Good luck in your new job. I hope you’ll find reasons to be grateful for the work you’re called to every day.


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It includes every corporate FCPA enforcement action since 1977 (indexed and instantly sortable), a terrific library of primary sources (did you know there are official translations of the FCPA in 50 languages?), and access to the FCPA Blog’s Quiz and Answer Key. The Quiz can be embedded into any compliance training program.

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  1. Very good advice and this can be applied to any job, any profession, home anywhere. Thanks for this blog. Like it a lot. Learning so much.

  2. Excellent advice that I practiced all through my career as an IPS officer. It paid me rich dividends too. Succinctly written article.

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