Do You Think You Have a Whistleblower Case? Follow These Three Steps.
The government devotes resources to a limited number of whistleblower cases, and it is vital that you do not try to move forward without the assistance of a competent attorney who has thoroughly evaluated your case. If you do not present a well-framed legal and factual case, there is very little chance the government will show an interest and become involved. Your best chance to get your case properly filed and presented is with the help of an experienced whistleblower attorney. Here are the steps we recommend you take if you believe you may have a viable case.
Before you start
Be very cautious about sharing details of your potential case with others, and limit the number of people you confide in to the greatest degree possible. Some whistleblower laws include provisions that require secrecy and confidentiality, and every government investigation is conducted on a need-to-know basis.
1. Organize your case’s story and details.
Whistleblower lawyers are looking for clients who have done their homework. It is very important for you to explain your case as simply and as thoroughly as possible. After this step, you’ll have a simple organized story, an inventory of evidence, and a list of potential witnesses for government investigators to talk to should they decide to pursue your case.
Make two lists. On the first, start with your name, job title, and relationship with the company or individuals responsible for the fraud, and explain how you came to know about the wrongful conduct. Do this carefully; at this stage you may omit the name of the company and any company-identifying information. Tell a simple story, without jargon, that gives the “who, what, where, when, and how” of the fraud. Detail what federal or state agency was defrauded, the basics of how the fraud works, and the scope of the losses to the government.
On the second list, detail the evidence you have access to in the course of fulfilling your job duties to support the story on the first page: emails, spreadsheets, contracts, billing records, training materials, PowerPoint presentations, copies of canceled checks, voice mails, audio or video. Then list the names and titles of people, inside and outside the company, who should be contacted and questioned if the government undertakes an investigation.
2. Determine if there is a law that may support your case.
Research the laws that reward whistleblowers for exposing wrongdoing. You can begin with the brief descriptions located here.
3. Search our membership directory to locate an experienced whistleblower attorney who is right for your case.
You will need to find an attorney who knows the pitfalls of whistleblower litigation and how to avoid them, an advocate who understands how to present a case effectively to the government and how your case can be leveraged to achieve maximum impact. No one covers legal developments in whistleblower law with the same intensity and dedication as Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund, and our membership is a good place to start. Our plaintiffs-only listserv unites the whistleblower bar and is a key source of information on real-time developments in the whistleblower arena. Search our membership directory to find a qualified attorney who specializes in whistleblower law.
Here are some additional considerations when securing the services of an attorney:
Your conversations with attorneys you ask to consider and evaluate your potential case are confidential and subject to the attorney-client privilege, even if they ultimately do not take your case. Don’t hesitate to ask for reassurance on this point.
Don’t pay attorney’s fees up front.
You need an attorney who is competent, and who will help you evaluate the calculated risk of filing a whistleblower case. The last thing you want to do is file a losing case that costs you significant legal fees and runs the risk of damaging your career and your reputation. Under a contingency agreement in which the lawyer is paid out of any future recovery, your lawyer has a vested interest in your case’s success and is unlikely to proceed unless he or she thinks success is reasonably likely.
A competent whistleblower attorney who declines to represent you on a contingency basis will give you a candid assessment of your case’s potential. He or she may be able to refer you to another attorney, or may give you reasons for recommending that you not move forward with your case.
Research and evaluate law firms before you contact them.
Be prepared to interview multiple firms before deciding who is best qualified to represent you in your particular circumstances. Do the lawyers have a track record of success in whistleblower law cases? Do they specialize in these cases, representing plaintiffs only? Do they have expertise in the subject-matter area that’s at issue in your case? Do they have a history of working cooperatively and successfully with government attorneys and investigators? Ask for the names of relevant cases and a summary of the results.
Many experienced whistleblower attorneys have national practices. Do not limit your search to law firms located in your city and state.
Most significant whistleblower cases are national in scope and deal with frauds against core government programs and institutions, such as Medicare and Medicaid, the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the U.S. Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, and Transportation. The relationships between your lawyer and the government attorneys and investigators responsible for evaluating your case are far more important than where your lawyer resides.
***Please note: TAFEF and its staff members do not represent clients in litigation.