By

Chris Fialko

Last week I was named the Best Lawyers® 2021 Criminal Defense: White-Collar “Lawyer of the Year” in Charlotte.

I usually don’t tout such awards.  I rely on my reputation and work to gain new clients.  But I confess I’m proud of this particular recognition for three reasons.

First, I achieved it from a different angle than prior recipients – I almost exclusively represent human beings in white collar investigations, not companies.  There are many great white collar defense lawyers in Charlotte who focus on representing big companies and their high-level executives.  I learned a lot over the years from these lawyers.  They sometimes bring me into cases to represent other employees.   But I focus on representing owners, managers, or employees in small and medium businesses.

Second, this was a plan I hatched 16 years ago.  From 1994 – 2003 I defended people in blue-collar crimes in state and federal court – everything from robbery to DWI, from drug offenses to homicides.  In 2003 crafted a plan to try to break into the white collar field.  It took patience, hustle, and a willingness to learn.  Some of the skills of blue collar defense – cross-examination, independent investigation, listening to clients – translated to white collar.  But I kept my eyes open and learned new skills.  It’s fun to make a plan and achieve the goal — a thriving white collar practice.

Third, I think Best Lawyers/U.S. News have the best method – peer voting by other lawyers and judges in each field.  It feels good to earn this vote from the white collar defense community here in Charlotte.

Enough of the self-promotion.  Back to work.

Whenever I have a consultation with a businessman or professional who has been contacted by the FBI or some kind of law enforcement, the conversation always comes around to this question:

Won’t it look bad if I hire a criminal defense lawyer?

The short answer is no. Simply, firmly, no.

To clarify, the reasons are many, but here are some of them:

  • Good cops and good prosecutors know that smart businessmen always consult a lawyer if they are contacted by law enforcement.  In private, FBI agents are always amazed that so many people just go ahead and answer questions without first seeking the advice of an attorney.
  • Lying to a federal agent is in itself a crime. (See 18 United States Code §1001.) It’s super important to either tell the whole truth or simply refuse to answer questions. You are much better off getting a criminal defense lawyer to help you decide whether to talk, than to take the risk of answering in a way that make the feds think you are lying.
  • Even if you tell the full truth, what you divulge may contradict something you’ve declared in the past. This often comes up when someone tells the truth to an FBI agent about an asset or income, but a prior tax return treated the asset or income differently.
  • White-collar cases do not develop quickly. Taking a week or two to consult with a lawyer will not piss off the government, nor will it change the outcome of the investigation.

Chris Fialko represented a businessman who received a subpoena to testify in a federal criminal trial in Charlotte.  Fialko reviewed hundreds of emails and documents in order to understand the facts involving the client, and then met with him for many hours preparing for both the direct testimony and likely cross-examination.  Chris helped the client understand that even though it is easy to tell the truth, it is hard to understand and clearly answer questions from prosecutors and defense lawyers inside a courtroom in the heat of a trial.

 

A few years ago, I instituted a new rule: before going to trial or sentencing, I visit the client’s home and have dinner at the kitchen table.

Why?

Because I learn so much more about the client. I see how he interacts with family. I see photographs on the wall. At dinner I hear family stories about the client. I learn nicknames, habits, and anecdotes.

In African-American homes, word gets out that the lawyer is there and friends and neighbors drop by. No matter how dire the case, there is something about a meal at the kitchen table that brings out some laughter and joy of life. (It has to be at the kitchen table, not the dining room table.)

If the case is heading to trial, then after dinner becomes a bull session, brainstorming. No matter how much I’ve studied discovery before, I get a new insight or two from these sessions.

I had a case in a rural mountain county once, and only when a neighbor dropped in (I think for some free dessert) did I learn who the likely “reliable informant” was, and why the guy was likely unreliable.

Our criminal justice system de-humanizes the accused. They are called “suspects” or “perpetrators” or “defendants.”  I need to humanize each client. Actually, re-humanize them for the jury or judge.

North Carolina 2020- Super Lawyers

Top 25 Charlotte

AN ALPHABETICAL LISTING OF THE CHARLOTTE AREA LAWYERS WHO RANKED TOP OF THE LIST IN THE 2020 NORTH CAROLINA SUPER LAWYERS NOMINATION, RESEARCH AND BLUE RIBBON REVIEW PROCESS

Cooney, III, James P., Womble Bond Dickinson, Charlotte

Culp, Heather W., Essex Richards, Charlotte

Davis, Edward B., Bell Davis & Pitt, Charlotte

Derr, Tricia Morvan, Lincoln Derr, Charlotte

Fialko, Christopher C., Fialko Law, Charlotte

Fuller, III, Robert W., Robinson Bradshaw, Charlotte

Greene, Michael J., Goodman Carr Laughrun Levine & Greene, Charlotte

Kutrow, Bradley R., McGuireWoods, Charlotte

Lam, Christopher C., Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, Charlotte

Lagress, S. Luke, Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, Charlotte

Marcus, Robert R., Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, Charlotte

McDowell, Valecia M., Moore & Van Allen, Charlotte

Miller, Jr., John R., Rayburn Cooper & Durham, Charlotte

Moss, Jr., Joseph W., Erwin Bishop Capitano & Moss, Charlotte

Owens, Jr., Raymond E., Higgins & Owens, Charlotte

Pantazis, Annemarie, Wilder Pantazis Law Group, Charlotte

Rayburn, Jr., C. Richard, Rayburn Cooper & Durham, Charlotte

Richey, Alice Carmichael, Alexander Ricks, Charlotte

Van Kampen, Joshua R., Van Kampen Law, Charlotte

Wester, John R., Robinson Bradshaw, Charlotte

Wyatt, III, James F., Wyatt & Blake, Charlotte

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