When to Bring in Investigative Counsel and Why

When should you bring in a true outsider to handle an internal investigation? What about specialized investigative counsel? Jim McGrath, who often writes about the need for specialized investigative counsel, has also pointed out on several occasions that having an independent eye on things is also a plus. However, rarely do we see both questions played out so publicly as is currently going on in the General Motors (G.M.) recall investigation. Indeed, Matthew Goldstein and Barry Meier discussed these questions in Sunday New York Times (NYT) Business Section article by, entitled “G.M Calls the Lawyers”.

For those of you not familiar with G.M.’s problems, McGrath also wrote about them in his Internal Investigations Blog, in a post entitled “What Did GM Know and When Did They Know It?” McGrath describes the current issues as “the revelation that General Motors is the target of probes by Congress and by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration over its handling of ignition switch defects in at least six of its popular automobiles. Failures in these switches may have resulted in as many as thirteen deaths and seemingly point to quality control failures at the automaker.” Others have estimated the death totals much higher for this defect. And, as McGrath notes, the key question is ‘what did GM know and when did they know it’?

Interestingly G.M. has hired two law firms to handle the investigation. One is King & Spalding, which handled much of the product liability litigation over the alleged defect and the second is Jenner & Block. In the NYT article, a prominent plaintiff’s lawyer, Lance Cooper, who fought GM and King & Spalding on this product liability litigation noted the obvious when he said, “They are part of the story.” By this he meant that “King & Spalding’s switch from a fierce defender of G.M. to a potential inquisitor into the company’s actions may also pose a conflict ...

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