Internal and regulatory investigations are ethical and tactical minefields for in-house counsel. Mishandling one can lead to reputational damage for the company or worse, regulatory or criminal charges and convictions. The consequences for the
corporate counsel may be even more significant personally, sometimes
even where he or she has in fact attempted to do the right thing.
The May 2011 acquittal of Lauren Stevens, in-house counsel for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), on charges of obstructing an
investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers a
cautionary tale. The FDA was looking into whether GSK had improperly promoted the drug Wellbutrin for non-standard prescription (or “
off-label”) purposes. Stevens’ indictment centred on her role in responding
to the FDA investigation, including her failure to disclose what she had
discovered during her own internal investigation into company activities.