Get a Lawyer

When a subpoena arrives, having counsel can save time and money and also protect your rights.

Woman with glasses reading a document
Anne M. Collart

Anne M. Collart and Ricardo Solano Jr.

October 6, 2023 12:00 AM

Get a lawyer. A familiar adage from crime dramas and thrillers, but likely not a reality that the average professional anticipates facing. Sure, if the FBI or police knock on your door and request an interview, you are likely to consult counsel. But when the government or a regulatory agency serves your company with a request for documents in the form of a grand jury or administrative subpoena (or even a civil investigative demand), is there really a need to spend money hiring an attorney? Or is it good enough to just send what you think they are looking for in the hopes you can dispose of the whole thing quickly and move on?

Get a lawyer. Counsel can provide real value working on behalf of the recipient of a subpoena or demand. First, while you may well believe that you and your company have done nothing wrong, there is no guarantee that prosecutors share that view. An attorney will use the request as an opportunity to invite discussion and learn whether prosecutors agree that the recipient—either you or the company—is merely a witness with information about some other wrongdoing. Second, counsel may be able to lessen the burden on the company by narrowing the scope of the requests. Complying with any request, particularly one that requires the collection of electronic documents, may be costly and time-consuming. Any success in limiting the scope of a subpoena will likely result in a substantial saving of costs, resources and time. Third, regardless of the scope, an attorney can ensure proper compliance with the request and, in doing so, avoid the risk of the government believing you are being non-cooperative.

Get a lawyer. If prosecutors believe that the subpoena recipient has or may have engaged in wrongdoing, an experienced criminal attorney will be far better positioned to discuss whether there is criminal exposure and assess the extent of that risk. That information will inform counsel’s review of the documents to be produced and identify opportunities for advocacy in connection with any production.

For example, imagine a scenario where your company receives a civil investigative demand. In discussing the requests and investigation with prosecutors, your counsel learns that while the company is not the target of the investigation, prosecutors are still investigating and are not sure that the company is completely without wrongdoing. In reviewing the company’s files, counsel finds a few emails that are responsive to the demand, and some of them contain red flags related to the prosecutor’s investigation. Counsel raises these with you, and in an attorney-client privileged discussion, you are able to provide further context and explain that these emails are isolated incidents and that you recently implemented a new training program that should resolve the issue going forward. The documents still need to be produced, but because you have hired counsel, they can be produced in continuing conversation with prosecutors. Your attorney can provide the context that mitigates potential wrongdoing. At the same time, taking this type of proactive approach may also cut off an unnecessarily prolonged, disruptive and costly investigation by getting to the core issues quickly and resolving the matter. And in the event prosecutors pursue your company, counsel is in a position to advocate for a favorable resolution immediately.

Get a lawyer. Regardless of the subpoena or demand recipient’s status, there may also be applicable privileges that an attorney can and should protect. Perhaps the most familiar is attorney-client privilege, but there may also be legal protection for documents that do not involve attorneys. For example, even the production of documents can be viewed as making a “statement” to law enforcement. The Fifth Amendment protects against self-incrimination and, in certain circumstances, can support withholding documents otherwise responsive to a subpoena or demand from the government. There are also other privileges, such as the self-critical analysis privilege, that may protect internal documents showing corrective actions a company took from production. Whether or not you elect to assert any applicable privilege will depend on a number of factors specific to your situation. Not having a lawyer to assess and counsel you on the applicable privileges (and timely assert any if that is the decision) will risk waiving those privileges not just in the matter at hand but also potentially in any future litigation.

In short, get a lawyer. And if it is in your compliance budget, get a lawyer before you receive a subpoena or civil investigative demand. A procedure for employees who could interface with law enforcement serving such a request (e.g., reception, management) will help ensure that no uncounseled statements are made during a seizure or service of a subpoena. It will also allow counsel to be contacted quickly and possibly even be present for the search or to accept service of the subpoena and begin shepherding the process immediately to protect you, the company and its employees.

Headshot of woman with dark hair

Anne M. Collart is a Director in the White Collar & Investigations Group at Gibbons P.C. She has represented individual and corporate clients in a variety of criminal and civil matters and government investigations, conducted multiple internal investigations throughout the United States and in Germany and litigated sensitive and high-stakes cases. Her white-collar criminal defense practice includes trial and appellate matters, and she has argued cases in both federal and state appellate courts. Her clients come from a range of industries, including higher education, healthcare, manufacturing, law and entertainment.

Headshot of man with dark hair

Ricardo Solano Jr., an experienced litigator and well-known, highly regarded leader in the white-collar defense space in New Jersey, co-chairs Gibbons P.C.’s White Collar & Investigations Group. He represents companies and individuals in the healthcare, financial services and other industries in both criminal and complex civil matters that often concern allegations of fraud, bribery, False Claims Act, public corruption, tax evasion and money laundering and involve federal, state and local law enforcement authorities, as well as civil and regulatory proceedings. He is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey and former New Jersey First Assistant Attorney General.

Headline Image: iStock/invizbk

Related Articles


Why Refusing a Blood Alcohol Test Might Be Safest

by Charles E. Tiernan III

A seasoned criminal defense and OUI lawyer explains why refusing to take a blood alcohol test after an OUI arrest may be the safest option for the arrestee.

Gloved hand holding vial of blood for alcohol test


The Current Situation for Asylum Seekers in the U.S.

by Allison Lukanich and Murali Bashyam

The U.S. asylum system has a staggering over 1.3 million cases pending before immigration courts and the government must distribute more resources to aid this watershed and resolve asylum claims faster.

Shadow of person standing by broken chain link fence


The Law Offices of Joseph A. Simon: A Criminal Defense Law Firm

by Joseph A. Simon

The Law Offices of Joseph A. Simon is an Ann Arbor-based firm that specializes in Criminal Defense. Over his 37-year career, Joseph A. Simon has defended thousands of cases.

A Lady in a Suit Taking Notes Across from a Man in an Orange Jumpsuit at a Table


A Beacon of Excellence in Criminal Defense

by Nicole Deborde Hochglaube

Nichole Hochglaube has built her firm and practice on fierce advocacy for her clients, and her excellence and work in Texas are highlighted through her awards and success.

People in business suits standing in a line clapping


Don’t Cross the Line

by John R. Mitchell and Mira Aftim

Settlement negotiations tend to instigate the most zealous advocacy among attorneys. But how far is “too far?”, and when can settlement demands turn into extortion?

Nike check over image of man in suit with court document in background

The Role of a Criminal Defense Investigator

by Best Lawyers

The role of a criminal defense investigator in a case is often overshadowed by the more prominent figures in the legal field. Let's look more closely.

Woman with hands on head stares at board of images

The Impact of Plea Bargains in Criminal Cases in the U.S.

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers highlights why plea bargains have risen to such prevalence, quickly becoming an essential part of the criminal justice system in the U.S.

Client and attorney stand before a judge in a courtroom


Precision in Practice

by John Fields

For four decades, the Perecman Firm's unwavering commitment to legal excellence has been crucial in securing victory for those facing life-altering injuries.

Three lawyers stand in NYC street posing for picture


Raising the Bar

by John Fields

New York City-based powerhouse Block O’Toole & Murphy continues to set new benchmarks for personal injury cases, with the firm achieving landmark victories.

Five lawyers sit and stand posing for a photo


A Winning Approach

by John Fields

Recognized New York-based lawyer and trial legend Benedict Morelli, with his firm sharing the keys to their courtroom success, has developed a winning approach.

Three lawyers wearing suits pose for a picture

New York Passes 9/11 Notice Act

by Gregory Sirico

Best Lawyers highlights the newly enacted 9/11 Notice Act, which seeks to find individuals eligible for medical care coverage under different federal programs.

Firefighter stands with their back turned with flames in the background

"Lawyer of the Year"

Woman with dark hair and glasses smiling for headshot

Ilene Knable Gotts

Antitrust Law

New York City, NY



Sexual Misconduct Investigations at Work

by Carley Reynolds

Lawyer Carley Reynolds explains how to navigate sexual misconduct allegations at work and offers advice and guidance for those who have been falsely accused.

Woman in yellow shirt talking with man in blue shirt at desk


Romer Debbas LLP: Two Lawyers' Journeys

by Romer Debbas

Romer Debbas LLP lawyers Sarah Tadros Awad, Esq. and Catherine Azevedo, Esq. discuss their legal careers and their journeys in the real estate legal field.

Two female lawyers wearing black suits

How To Find a Good Divorce Lawyer

by Best Lawyers

To navigate a divorce, which is inherently a complex legal landscape, finding the right divorce lawyer can make all the difference in the outcome of any case.

Bride and groom figurines on top of a wedding cake


Easton & Easton: Let Our Family Help Yours

by Justin Smulison

For more than 50 years, Easton & Easton have continued to be the go-to trial law firm for injury and wrongful death claims in Southern California in 2023.

Group of lawyers pose at table with globe in forefront

Trending Articles

The 2024 Best Lawyers in Spain™

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is honored to announce the 16th edition of The Best Lawyers in Spain™ and the third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Spain™ for 2024.

Tall buildings and rushing traffic against clouds and sun in sky

Best Lawyers Expands Chilean 2024 Awards

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is pleased to announce the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Chile™ and the inaugural edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Chile™, honoring the top lawyers and firms conferred on by their Chilean peers.

Landscape of city in Chile

The Best Lawyers in Spain™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Announcing Spain's recognized lawyers for 2023.

Flag of Spain

Announcing The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce the landmark 15th edition of The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ for 2024, including the exclusive "Law Firm of the Year" awards.

Sky view of South Africa town and waterways

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

The Best Lawyers in Portugal™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

The 2024 awards for Portugal include the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Portugal™ and 2nd edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Portugal™.

City and beach with green water and blue sky

The Best Lawyers in Peru™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce the landmark 10th edition of The Best Lawyers in Peru, the prestigious award recognizing the country's lop legal talent.

Landscape of Peru city with cliffside and ocean

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag

The Best Lawyers in Chile™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms in Chile.

White star in blue box beside white box with red box on bottom

The Best Lawyers in Colombia™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is honored to announce the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Colombia™ for 2024, which honors Colombia's most esteemed lawyers and law firms.

Cityscape of Colombia with blue cloudy sky above

Announcing the 2024 Best Lawyers in Puerto Rico™

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is proud to announce the 11th edition of The Best Lawyers in Puerto Rico™, honoring the top lawyers and firms across the country for 2024.

View of Puerto Rico city from the ocean

The 2023 Best Lawyers in Portugal™

by Best Lawyers

Announcing the elite group of lawyers recognized in Portugal for 2023.

Green and red Portuguese flag

Unwrapping Shrinkflation

by Justin Smulison

Through the lens of the United States, we take a closer look at the global implication of companies downsizing products while maintaining and often raising prices.

Chocolate bar being unwrapped from foil

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue

by Best Lawyers

The 2021 Global Issue features top legal talent from the most recent editions of Best Lawyers and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch worldwide.

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue


Making an Impact

by John Fields

Morelli Law Firm has changed countless lives through its transformative results.

Three men in suits against New York skyline

This article is a part of the Best Lawyers Criminal Law 2024 Legal Guide. Read thought leadership from recognized lawyers and navigate a list of all honorees in the associated practice areas.

Explore the Legal Guide