White collar crimes are crimes that are committed by educated, often licensed, professionals. Fraud, embezzlement, and identity theft are examples of white collar crimes. A white collar lawyer is a lawyer who has chosen to focus his or her practice on the representation of people charged with such crimes.
The term "white collar crime" has become part of most people's vocabulary, although it is not actually a legal term. The term was coined in the 1930s by a professor doing research into criminology. The term got its name as a result of the type of person who typically committed the crimes—at that time, a professional male typically went to work in a suit and tie with a white-collared shirt.
When a person commits one of the crimes considered to be a white collar crime, he or she typically retains the services of a white collar lawyer. Although these crimes are often financial crimes, they are crimes nonetheless. Most crimes committed by white collar criminals carry possible terms of incarceration as penalties. The majority of crimes that are referred to as white collar crimes are actually felonies which carry higher possible fines and lengths of incarceration than misdemeanor crimes.
The tactics and defenses that a white collar lawyer may employ are essentially the same as he or she would use for any other crime. First, a white collar lawyer will look at whether or not the prosecution is actually able to prove that his or her client committed the crime. Within the United States, the prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As many of these crimes involve lengthy and complicated financial records, it may be difficult for the prosecution to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
If it becomes clear that a white collar lawyer cannot prevent the prosecution from convicting his or her client, then negotiating a plea agreement will become the focus. Many people who commit white collar crimes have no previous criminal history. In fact, in many cases the defendant is a highly-educated and well-respected member of the community, which can go a long way in helping his or her lawyer during plea negotiations. One argument a white collar lawyer will likely make is that allowing the defendant to complete a term of probation in lieu of incarceration will ultimately benefit the victims of the crime, as the defendant will be able to continue working and, therefore, will be able to pay fines or restitution to the victims.