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Claire Johnson is a member of Farella Braun + Martel’s Business Litigation and Employment practices.

The attorney-client privilege, which prohibits the compelled disclosure of confidential communications between an attorney and their client, is enshrined in common law and statutory codes across the country. See, e.g., Cal. Evid. Code § 950 et seq.; Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 389 (1981) (the fundamental purpose of the attorney-client privilege “is to encourage full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients and thereby promote broader public interests in the observance of law and administration of justice”).

The long-standing recognition of this privilege reflects the policy decision that the encouragement of candor between lawyers and clients outweighs probative and evidentiary value of those frank communications to the administration of justice.

But what happens when a different policy choice is made?
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At a recent panel organized by San Francisco’s Federal Bar Association, the San Francisco Regional Director of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Jina Choi, confirmed that the agency continues to focus on investor fraud in the pre-IPO private market space. Highlighting enforcement actions against the non-public Zenefits, Credit Karma, and Theranos[1]

Last week the SEC announced it had reached an agreement with privately-held company Zenefits, and its co-founder and former CEO Parker Conrad, to settle allegations that Zenefits materially misled Series B and C investors. The parties agreed to settle for over a combined $980,000 (Zenefits agreed to pay $450,000, with Conrad responsible for the balance). This appears to be a first-of-its-kind SEC enforcement action against a privately-held company, reflecting this ongoing enforcement priority for the agency in Silicon Valley. 
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Department of Justice sign

Earlier this year we highlighted the growing trend of regulators asserting continuing post-investigation control over the operations of companies accused of compliance failures. At the state level, we highlighted a deal reached between the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) and Zenefits, a privately-held health care brokerage firm, in which the DIR agreed to forgive half of a $7 million fine in exchange for continuing audits to evaluate future compliance with state regulations.

At the federal level, we’re seeing the same trend.
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Blog-Image---DataSecurityIn January of this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought suit against Taiwan-based D-Link Corp. and its U.S. subsidiary, D-Link Systems Inc, in Los Angeles Federal Court, for failing to properly secure its consumer routers and computer cameras. According to the FTC, the devices were billed as containing “advanced network security” but actually left thousands of devices vulnerable to hacking and compromise. The results of this FTC suit could create a de facto security compliance regime for all purveyors in the ever-growing “internet of things.”
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whistleblower

In a company with a robust compliance culture, potential whistleblowers can express their concerns without fear of retribution. By contrast, the penalty for a culture that silences whistleblowers just got steeper.  Companies caught punishing those who raise red flags, especially when they turn out to be lawyers, could be forced to confront documents otherwise inadmissible against the company due to attorney-client privilege. 
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Blog-Image---TechnologyAfter a series of compliance failures leading to the resignation of company’s CEO, the privately-held health care brokerage company Zenefits was just hit with a $7 million dollar settlement by the California Department of Insurance (DIR). The terms of the settlement may reflect a new trend in compliance enforcement, namely that regulators are trading monetary penalties for oversight over privately-held companies.
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Blog-Image---Technology

The brightest minds in Silicon Valley work 24/7 to disrupt existing systems and industries. No one can argue that Uber and Lyft haven’t fundamentally altered transportation, that AirBnB hasn’t changed the way we travel, or that Netflix hasn’t rendered brick and mortar video rental stores obsolete. Can those same minds harness the innovative energy of the region to make it easier for regulated industries to comply with state and federal laws? At least one Silicon Valley company thinks so, and is exploring new ways to marry its technological expertise with its compliance obligations.
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