Karen Popp

Sidley Austin LLP
Global Chair and

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Sidley Austin LLP
Washington, DC
Work: (202) 736-8053

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Washington DC


KAREN POPP is a highly regarded and well known leader in the field of white collar defense, internal investigations, and compliance. Her practice focuses on high-stakes matters with legal, political, and public relations components, such as global internal investigations, defense against U.S. Department of Justice and SEC Enforcement investigations, Congressional investigations, OIG and State Attorney General actions, corporate compliance, and litigation. Chambers USA recognizes Karen as a leader in the fields of White Collar and FCPA, Chambers Global recognizes her in the field of FCPA (USA), National Law Journal named her a Crisis Leadership Trailblazer, Global Investigations Review named her a “Top 30 FCPA Practitioner in the U.S.A.,” Euromoney Expert Guides 2021 edition of the “Best of the Best USA” named her a “Top 30 White Collar Crime” practitioner, and Benchmark Litigation named her a National “White Collar Defense Star.” Karen previously served as Associate White House Counsel to President Clinton, a lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, and an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York. She began her career on Wall Street.

Karen represents clients across a host of industries and often in crisis management situations. Her clients range from major corporations to non-profit/higher education institutions, and to prominent business, political, and sports figures, including a U.S. Presidential Cabinet Member, a Corporate CEO and a General Counsel, senior FBI official, an NFL team senior officer, and a Big Ten football coach. She has been retained to conduct confidential internal investigations in more than 70 countries, defend corporations and individuals in government investigations, and advise corporate boards and management relating to alleged FCPA and OFAC violations, securities and financial fraud, accounting irregularities, environmental crimes, kickbacks, tax fraud, qui tams, misuse of corporate assets, false claims, antitrust, corruption, fraud, whistleblower, campaign finance violations, “Me Too,” racial, gender, inequality, other misconduct claims and post-Dobbs related issues.

Her recent experience includes:

  • Successfully obtained prosecutorial declinations for companies in significant criminal investigations.
  • Represented numerous companies and individuals in connection with FCPA investigations before the Department of Justice and SEC. These large-scale investigations span dozens of countries across the globe.
  • Successfully led a major international internal investigation into significant consumer fraud allegations against a major U.S. corporation.
  • Successfully represented Ohio State Football Coach Urban Meyer related to an investigation into allegations arising from athletic department issues.
  •  Represented two major corporations and an executive in the auto industry in environmental and antitrust related investigations.
  • Conducted global independent internal investigations into FCPA allegations at Key Energy and Statoil.
  • Conducted internal investigations and advised corporate boards relating to claims of “Me Too,” racial, gender, inequality, and other misconduct by board members and senior officers.
  • Represented Duke Energy in Clean Water Act prosecutions by DOJ over the company’s North Carolina coal ash ponds and oil spill into the Ohio River and in the antitrust resolution regarding Osprey Energy.
  • Represented Laureate Education, Inc., one of the world’s largest higher education institutions, in connection with a qui tam action. After an extensive internal investigation and considerable engagement with the U.S. Department of Justice, successfully convinced DOJ to decline to intervene in the qui tam action and the relators subsequently dismissed the case.
  • Assisted the investigation of the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation related to the inclusion of the organizations’ president, Alphonso David, in the New York Attorney General’s report of the investigation of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
  • Represented a senior officer at the National Football League (NFL) Washington Commanders Football Team, in an NFL investigation into the organization’s culture, policies, and allegations of workplace misconduct, including allegations of sexual harassment from 15 female former employees.
  • Represented companies in State Attorney General investigations involving alleged false claims and qui tams.
  • Successfully represented a U.S. presidential cabinet member in DOJ and congressional investigations.

Karen also assists clients in designing and enhancing corporate compliance and ethics programs, and currently serves as outside counsel to several corporate compliance departments. She has conducted global compliance and risk assessments for numerous U.S. and non-U.S. companies. Karen helps companies to respond to internal allegations of wrongdoing, conducts training for boards of directors, management, compliance departments and other company personnel, and conducts compliance due diligence regarding corporate acquisitions and joint ventures.

Karen has been repeatedly recognized for her work as a lawyer and trailblazing for diversity in the field. The Legal 500 US notes that, “The ‘highly experienced and knowledgeable’ Karen Popp provides ‘expert and practical advice.’” Global Investigation Review named Karen as one of the “Top 100 Women in Investigations” in the world. Washingtonian magazine has named Karen to the Lifetime Achievement honor roll of “Top Lawyers Hall of Fame,” and repeatedly includes Karen in Washingtonian’s roster of “Top Lawyers in Washington” for Criminal Defense — White Collar. She has been recognized yearly by The Best Lawyers in America in Criminal Defense: White-Collar and Commercial Litigation and has been repeatedly named by Super Lawyers magazine as one of the Top 100 lawyers in Washington, a recognition based on a vote of peers. The Legal 500 Latin America recommended her for Compliance and Investigations (2024). Karen is also listed in Who’s Who Legal: Thought Leaders in Investigations, Who’s Who Legal: Business Crime Defense and Who’s Who Legal: Investigations. Karen was selected in 2015 as one of the “Ethisphere Attorneys Who Matter” for making a significant difference in the ethics and compliance fields through the private practice of law. She has been named for several years to Benchmark Litigation’s “Top 250 Women in Litigation” list, a publication honoring the achievements of female lawyers in litigation practices in the United States, including most recently in 2022. Karen also was recognized by Benchmark Litigation as a Washington, D.C. “Litigation Star” (2022–2024). Super Lawyers magazine has repeatedly named her one of the “Top 50 Women Lawyers in Washington, D.C.” The recipient of the “First Annual Transformative Leadership Award” given by InsideCounsel Magazine in 2010, Karen also was the 2006 recipient of the “Star of the Bar” award by the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia. She received the “Thurgood Marshall Award” given by the New York City Bar Association and was the first recipient of the “Laurie A. Miller Leadership Award” for the Advancement of Women in White Collar Defense. Karen also received the first-ever “GIR Award” for Services to Diversity. Karen has received two honorary doctorate degrees – a Doctor of Public Service from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a Doctor of Laws from Converse University.

Before joining Sidley, Karen served as Associate White House Counsel to the President of the United States, where she advised President Clinton and the White House staff on congressional and grand jury investigations and domestic policy issues. She worked with senior administration officials at various federal agencies and congressional members and staffs on the administration’s policy initiatives.

Prior to joining the White House, Karen served in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice where she advised Attorney General Janet Reno and the Department, the White House and other agencies of the executive branch on a wide range of legal matters. Before moving to Washington, D.C., Karen was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, where she prosecuted RICO and other charges involving fraud, bribery, extortion, tax evasion, money laundering, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and perjury.

Karen was a commercial litigator in New York City for five years before joining the government. While on Wall Street, she represented corporations and investment banking firms in a wide range of litigation matters, including securities fraud and hostile corporate takeovers.

Karen graduated cum laude from the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she served as an editor on the North Carolina Law Review and was a member of the Order of the Coif. Upon graduation from law school, Karen clerked for the Honorable Sam J. Ervin III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. She received her undergraduate degree and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she graduated cum laude, and thereafter studied law at Oxford University before attending UNC School of Law.  

She is the chair of the Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum and serves on the Editorial Board of the Global Investigations Review. Karen also is a member of the Planning Committee for the ABA National Institute on White Collar Crime, the Planning Committee for the ABA Criminal Justice Section for the Global White Collar Crime Institute and a member of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct for the U.S. Courts of the District of Columbia Circuit. She serves on the Advisory Board for the Women’s Power Summit on Law and Leadership and the Class Committee for the DirectWomen Board Institute.

Karen was appointed by the N.C. Governor to the Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina. The Commission was established in November 2022 to advise the Office of the Governor and the public on the status of public higher education governance in North Carolina and on strategies to successfully position the state’s universities (UNC System) for the future. At UNC Chapel Hill, Karen serves on the Boards of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and the UNC School of Law Alumni Association. She previously served as UNC Charlotte’s Chair of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Foundation Board, and as President of the UNC Law Alumni Association. Karen is a Distinguished Fellow at Duke Law School, where she teaches Government Enforcement and Global Corporate Compliance.

Karen is a former member of the Board of Directors for the Higher Education Works Foundation and of the North Carolina Council for Women, a position to which she was appointed by the Governor of the state. She also served on the faculty of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and the Advisory Board for Best Buddies International, Inc.

A frequent speaker at national conferences and before various other groups, Karen has provided legal commentary on CNN, Fox News and NPR, and served as a consultant on the television show The West Wing. She has also written a number of published pieces.


  • Anti-Corruption Quarterly, Editorial Board (2011–Present)
  • Co-Author, “Successful Partnering Between Inside and Outside Counsel,” Thomson Reuters (White Collar Crime Chapter) (2019)
  • Co-Author, “INSIGHT: EPA’s Criminal Theory in Clean Air Act Breaks New Ground,” Bloomberg Environment (2019)
  • Co-Author, “INSIGHT: Criminal Liability Risk From Vehicle Diagnostic Issues,” Bloomberg Environment (2019)
  • Co-Author, “Cybersecurity: A Practical Guide to the Law of Cyber Risk,” PLI Treatise (“Cybersecurity In Regulated Sectors” chapter) (2015)
  • Co-Author, “Business and Commercial Litigation in Federal Courts,” Third Edition (“Privacy and Security” chapter) (2012)
  • Co-Author, “Defending Federal Criminal Cases,” Attacking the Government’s Proof (Chapter 3) (2012) 
  • Co-Author, “Dropping the Blinders from the Government’s Willful Blindness Standard: Global-Tech Appliances v. Seb, Benchmark Litigation (2011) 
  • Co-Author, “Inside the Minds: White Collar Law Client Strategies” chapter on “Strategies for White Collar Representation” (2007) 
  • “The Impeachment of President Clinton: An Ugly Mix of Three Powerful Forces,” Duke Law and Contemporary Problems (Winter/Spring 2000) 
  • “Search Warrants, Seizing Electronic Data,” The National Law Journal (November 20, 2000) 
  • “A View From the White House,” St. Peter’s College Record, Oxford University (2000) 

Speaking Engagements

  • Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum, Chair of Conference, Washington, D.C., November 9–10, 2023.
  • “The U.S. Presidency,” North Carolina Law Review Symposium: Walter Dellinger and the Path of Constitutional Law, Chapel Hill, NC, October 6, 2023.
  • Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum, Chair of Conference, Washington, D.C., October 26–28, 2022.
  • “Investigation and Trial: A Hypothetical Fact Pattern with Expert Analysis,” ABA Annual London White Collar Conference, London, October 10-11, 2022.
  • “Evolution of Women in the White Collar Field in the Last Decade,” WWCDA/ABA Lunch, London, October 11, 2022.
  • “Risks to Retailers in the Wake of Dobbs,” RILA webinar, September 27, 2022.
  • “Location, Location, Location- Best Practice in Multi-Jurisdictional Investigations,” GIR Live: Women in Investigations, London, England, June 16, 2022.
  • “Risks & Challenges from a Changing Regulatory & Enforcement Environment,” National Association of Corporate Directors (NY Chapter), Virtual, March 22, 2022.
  • “Crisis Management: Investigations, Compliance and How Counsel Can Help,” 2022 Festival of Legal Learning, Virtual, February 4, 2022.
  • “Dealing With Crisis Management in a University Setting,” Sidley Podcast, November 2021.
  • “Presidential Accountability – The Problems and Use of Impeachment,” University of Worcester Conference on Questions of Accountability: Prerogatives, Power and Politics, Virtual, November 4, 2021.
  • Moderator, “Interactive Roundtable,” at Latin Lawyer-GIR Connect: Anti-Corruption & Investigations, Virtual, October 20, 2021.
  • Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum, Chair of Conference, Virtual, October 13–14, 2021.
  • “Litigation Problems That Keep Corporate Counsel Awake At Night and How Outside Counsel Can Help Solve Them,” ABA Business Law Section Annual Meeting, Virtual, September 23, 2021.
  • “Different Approaches to Monitorships and Post-Resolution Compliance Requirements,” GIR Live: Women in Investigations, London, England, September 23, 2021.
  • GIR Connect: USA, Co-Chair of Conference and Moderator of “In-House Counsel on Managing a Crisis” and “U.S. Enforcers Roundtable – Latest Government Initiatives,” Virtual, May 26, 2021.
  • Keynote Speaker at “President’s Leadership Forum on International Women’s Day,” Converse College, Virtual, March 8, 2021.
  • “Women in White Collar,” Duke Law School Women Law Students Association, Virtual, March 4, 2021.
  • “Responding to an Allegation of Wrongdoing: Conducting the Internal Investigation,” 2021 Festival of Legal Learning, Virtual, February 3, 2021.
  • “Navigating the Legal and Reputational Threats of a University Crisis,” Webinar, Sidley Austin LLP, February 2021.
  • “Looking Back at the Year Gone By: An Update on Government Investigations from Across the Globe,” GIR Live Women in Investigations, Virtual, November 12, 2020.
  • Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum, Chair of Conference, Virtual, October 14–16, 2020.
  • “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: Recent Developments and Government Priorities,” ABA Annual White Collar Conference, Virtual, June 17, 2020.
  • “Anti-Corruption Enforcement and Compliance Trends,” 2020 Festival of Legal Learning, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, February 8, 2020.
  • “The Evolution of White Collar Practice, Future Trends and Why Women Are Having Unprecedented Success in the Field,” Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Annual Conference, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 21, 2019.
  • 2019 Ford Motor Company Legal Alliance for Women (LAW) Conference (Detroit, Michigan, November 19, 2019)
  • Compliance Symposium, Duke Law School (Durham, North Carolina, November 11, 2019)
  • Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum, Chair of Conference (Washington, D.C., October 16–18, 2019)
  • “Global Anti-Corruption Trends,” ABA Global White-Collar Crime Institute (Prague, Czech Republic, June 28, 2019)
  • “The Year in Review: An Update on Government Investigations from Across the Globe,” GIR Live Women in Investigations (London, England, June 12, 2019) 
  • “#MeToo & Beyond,” Women’s Power Summit (Austin, Texas, April 11, 2019)
  • Environmental Crimes Enforcement Trends, ABA Annual White Collar Conference (New Orleans, Louisiana, March 6, 2019)
  • “FCPA and Other Anti-Corruption Enforcement” and “Compliance in Today’s Enforcement Climate,” 2019 Festival of Legal Learning (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, February 8, 2019)
  • Compliance Symposium, Duke Law School (Durham, North Carolina, November 16, 2018)
  • “Global Investigations Review,” GIR Live, Co-Chair of Conference (Washington, D.C., October 25, 2018)
  • Power Lunch Series, Keynote Speaker (University of Texas School of Law, October 23, 2018)
  • Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum, Chair of Conference (Washington, D.C., October 17-19, 2018)
  • General Counsel Roundtable, “Sticky Situations: Observations from Prosecutors and Counsel,” (Menlo Park, California, October 4, 2018)
  • Featured guest on Law Talk with BJ podcast discussing investigations, Coach Urban Meyer matter and the Women’s White Collar Defense Association (September 5, 2018)
  • “All for One and One for All? – Joint Defense Agreements in Complex White Collar Cases After the Yates Memo,” ABA White Collar Institute Southeastern (Braselton, Georgia, September 6, 2018) 
  • “Negotiated Resolutions and Coordinating Them in Multi-National Investigations,” GIR Women in Investigations Conference (London, England June 28, 2018)
  • “Year In Review and Enforcement Trends,” PLI FCPA and International Anti-Corruption Developments 2018 Conference (New York, New York, April 23, 2018)
  • “Updates on FCPA and Other Anti-Corruption Enforcement” and “Compliance in Today’s Enforcement Climate,” 2018 Festival of Legal Learning (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, February 9, 2018)
  • “Global Investigations Review,“ GIR Live, Co-Chair of Conference (Washington, D.C., October 26, 2017)
  • Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum, Chair of Conference (Washington, D.C., October 19–20, 2017)
  • “Trends Regarding Global Anti-Corruption Enforcement,” ABA Global White Collar Crime Institute (São Paulo, Brazil, June 7, 2017)
  • “Anti-Corruption Issues Facing Financial Institutions,” PLI FCPA and International Anti-Corruption Developments 2017 Conference (New York, New York, April 24, 2017)
  • “The Bob McDonnell Case and the Trump Administration: Implications for the Prosecution of Corruption in the US, the UK and the Rest of the World,” Duke University Center for International & Comparative Law (Durham, North Carolina, April 21, 2017)  
  • “Effective Compliance Programs,” Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance Annual Conference (Camden, New Jersey, April 7, 2017)
  • “Updates on FCPA and Other Anti-Corruption Enforcement,” 2017 Festival of Legal Learning (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, February 11, 2017)
  • “Presidential Nomination Process and the Steps to Confirmation – A View from Different Perspectives,” ABA Mid-Year Meeting, Judicial Division (Lawyers Conference) (Miami, Florida, February 3, 2017)
  • Featured guest on FCPA podcast, discussing major developments pertaining to FCPA enforcement and compliance (January 24, 2017)
  • “Global Investigations Review,” GIR Live, Co-Chair of Conference (Washington, D.C., November 16, 2016)
  • “A Conversation About the FCPA: Perspectives from DOJ and Defense Counsel -- Leslie Caldwell, Chief of DOJ Criminal Division, and Karen Popp,” GW University, aired live on C-Span (Washington, D.C., November 3, 2016)
  • “DOJ and SEC Pronouncements,” Chief Compliance Officers’ Forum (Washington, D.C., October 20, 2016) 
  • “Advising the Board & Management on Risk & Compliance,” American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Trade Association (Washington, D.C., October 4, 2016)
  • “Hypothetical: Ethical Issues in Anti-corruption Matters,” PLI FCPA and International Anti-Corruption Developments 2016 Conference (New York, New York, May 3, 2016)
  • “Updates for the FCPA and Other Anti-Corruption Enforcement Abroad,” 26th Annual Festival of Legal Learning (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, February 12, 2016)
  • “Petrobras: A New Paradigm for Global Enforcement Risk?” GIR Live (Washington, D.C., February 9, 2016)“

Practice Areas

  • Anti-Corruption
  • Antitrust
  • Complex Commercial Litigation
  • Compliance Counseling
  • Congressional Investigations
  • Corporate Crime
  • Crisis Management
  • Due Diligence Investigations
  • Environmental
  • Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
  • Government Investigations
  • Insider Trading
  • Internal Investigations
  • Privacy, Data Security and Information Law
  • Qui Tam; Whistleblower Defense
  • SEC Enforcement
  • Securities Litigation
  • State Attorney Generals
  • Title IX
  • White Collar Crime