1. Shut up and get a good lawyer, fast. You can complain about the fraud internally, but we all know how that usually ends. Once you identify a fraud, immediately contact a lawyer to ask for guidance, including what documents and corroborating evidence that you can take with you. Do NOT ever take originals. You don’t want the real crooks to flex their muscle and convince authorities that your “theft” should negate their fraud. It’s also possible that as soon as you start thinking about the impropriety, people at the company know who you are. That means you could be escorted out of the building before you can grab your kids’ pictures off your desk.
2. Make sure you have a case. FCA, IRS and SEC cases are not based on rumor or hunches, but evidence. You have to prove fraud and the government is not paying awards for generalized tips, but for specific evidence. You are supposed to be doing the government’s work for it. Don’t assume that you will be able to prove your case by having your lawyer or the government subpoena documents from the defendant after the case is filed. Think about what you personally know right now. As the great philosopher Tommy Boy said, “I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it.” The government wants the butcher, but come prepared with meat in hand.
3. Welcome hard questions and difficult truths. Don’t blame a lawyer for questioning your case – convince them it has the necessary merit. If you have found a good lawyer and you can’t convince them, then maybe you don’t have a case. My first(successful) case involved a novel theory – fraud that was obvious to me but not something that the Department of Justice had pursued before. My attorneys dug deep into the facts of my case and did a lot of legal research before they felt comfortable it was viable. Initial skepticism can save years of wasted time if the facts and/or law don’t work in your favor.
4. Get an honest lawyer who’s had some success in the whistleblower arena. Before divulging any specific details to a prospective lawyer, make sure they run a conflict’s check first to ensure they don’t have an ulterior agenda. For example, they could already represent a client that has a similar case and could be trying to suck information out of you. If a lawyer purports to have recovered billions of dollars in whistleblower claims, ask them how much their relators’ shares have been. There are some great lawyers who represent whistleblowers, including some who are less well known but nonetheless very capable. Asking other whistleblowers who they recommend and then talking to the lawyers is always a good way to approach a potential attorney-client relationship. The key, however, is to find an attorney with good judgment quickly.
Also, don’t pay someone an hourly fee to represent you on a whistleblower case (unless they are only representing you in an employment case). The real whistleblower lawyers all work on a contingency fee basis — meaning you pay nothing unless you win. The only lawyers I ever heard of who charge an hourly rate are ones who don’t know what they are doing — or ones who think you don’t have a case but are happy to take your money.
5. Prepare for the long haul. Most defendants don’t settle easily, and they never fear press as much as you think they will. Many lawyers have told me that every whistleblower they talk to says “the company will settle this quickly to avoid the press.” They never do.