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von Briesen & Roper section leader helps clients Ward off investigations

von Briesen & Roper section leader helps clients Ward off investigations

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Stacy Gerber Ward (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)
Stacy Gerber Ward (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Stacy Gerber Ward has sat on both sides of the table.

These days, Ward uses her 14 years of experience in the U.S. Department to Justice to assist businesses, which are the focus of their inquiries.

“Now I’m on the other side from the government and state agencies helping companies,” said Ward, a shareholder with von Briesen & Roper and leader of its Government Enforcement and Corporate Investigations Section. “I also really try to be pro-active with my clients to look at their compliance programs to make sure they are adequate.”

Ward guides businesses under government investigation about the process and what they can expect and how to navigate an internal investigation.

“I know the different steps the government is doing and can explain why the different steps are being taken,” said Ward, who served as assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and most recently as deputy chief of the civil division.

While Ward prepares to litigate on her client’s behalf, she said most cases settle beforehand.

“It’s an unusual practice since you take all the pre-litigation work, but you also work and work with the government to get the case resolved.”

Oral skills are essential in her line of work, Ward said.

“That and my background with investigations are vital. It’s an unusual skillset.”

As for being on the other side of the table from government attorneys, Ward has adjusted.

“When you are with the government, there is a general sense that you’re out there wearing the white hat — you see rules and want to know if they were violated,” she said. “When you work with companies, it is more complex as you see the decision-making process and how things came together.”

Wisconsin Law Journal: What makes your work important to you?
Stacy Ward: It’s important for companies to be good corporate citizens, especially when it comes to procuring projects and providing services at the expense of taxpayers. To be good corporate citizens, companies and individuals who deal with the government need to have strong and effective compliance programs. I spent 14 years working for the U.S. Department of Justice and have seen the consequences — sometimes crippling — of failing to do that. I’m looking forward to using that experience to help companies and providers benefit from government contracts and providing services reimbursed by the government, while avoiding getting in the government’s crosshairs through strong and effective compliance.

WLJ: Who is your hero in the legal field?
Ward: I have a few heroes, but the one that comes to mind first is my mentor, Bill Staudenmaier. Bill mentored many lawyers over the years. He taught each of his mentees how to be effective advocates by closely watching and reviewing both our work on paper and in the courtroom. He also taught us not only how to communicate with clients but why to communicate with clients. Most importantly, Bill taught us how to zealously represent clients while also keeping your moral compass intact. After many years of practicing law I now know how rare this was and how critical it was for my development as a lawyer.

WLJ: What do you do outside of work to deal with stress from the office?
Ward: Exercise! I run (slowly) and do some bike riding and some yoga. It seems heretical to many lawyers who are focused on getting their billable hours in, but exercising over the noon hour is especially effective in not only alleviating stress but also in improving performance in the afternoon.

WLJ: What’s one thing many people get wrong about what you do?
Ward: It’s no surprise that, with my recent government experience, I’m an advocate of cooperating with a government investigation when possible. People may see that as a weak position when dealing with the government. But there are many reasons why this is a strategy that can be effective in the right situation. First, it can demonstrate that the entity has a strong and effective compliance program, which is one element prosecutors are directed to evaluate under federal prosecution guidelines. Second, cooperation develops rapport with the government investigator or attorney, which can help the client be viewed favorably by government representatives.

WLJ: What’s your favorite memory from law school?
Ward: During law school I worked for the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic. I loved working directly with clients and the camaraderie of the staff and students who worked in the clinic.

WLJ: Is there a certain case that stands out to you?
Ward: While at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I handled an investigation of a chain of Wisconsin assisted living facilities. The allegation against the chain was that the facilities were providing very substandard care to a vulnerable population of dementia patients, which included Medicaid beneficiaries. The settlement of the case was incredibly satisfying, not because it resulted in a large recovery for the government (in fact, the monetary recovery was fairly small) but the resolution involved the chain entering into a corporate integrity agreement with the government that required the chain to improve the care that it was providing.


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