What Do Compliance Lawyers Do? By Lori Tripoli Law Practice Management Expert
Given that compliance is such a hot practice area in our current regulatory climate. Thanks in part to the high-profile acts of a few bad actors triggering greater enforcement and a corporate universe anxious to minimize risk, it is perhaps no surprise that there is plenty of work for compliance lawyers. “Companies that treat their compliance obligations seriously and devote time and effort to that are going to drastically limit the number and scope of the government inquiries they have to face,” says David Smyth, a partner at Brooks Pierce in Raleigh, N.C.
The need to comply with statutes and regulations stretches across industries, of course. “Pharma companies obviously have to pay close attention to Food and Drug Administration regulations. Companies with overseas customers need to think about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and import/export regulations. Media companies will have to consider Federal Communications Commission regulations, and often won’t have to worry about any of those others,” Smyth says. “Lately, we have seen an increased attention to retail, tech, and financial industries. The agencies that enforce anti-bribery laws typically look at the entire industry in the course of investigating a subject company, so the risk of being investigated and paying a hefty penalty will remain high across the industry,” observes Laura Martino, general counsel and national compliance director for Tower Legal Solutions in New York.
Given the seemingly slow pace of the regulatory development process — from drafting a proposed rule to publishing it for comment to responding to comments and issuing a final rule — it may be a surprise for some that businesses nevertheless experience challenges in dealing with new or revised regulations.
“Organizations continue to struggle with the pace at which rules and regulations are coming down the pike,” reports Mitch Avnet, managing partner at Compliance Risk Concepts in New York. A rule is modified, and a business isn’t necessarily equipped immediately to process a change in its procedures. Companies “have not been particularly successful at processing new/amended regulatory requirements. They fail to effectively conduct timely impact assessments and disseminate this information in a meaningful and efficient manner,” Avnet notes.
The need for compliance help exists within a business even if it is trying to do everything right.
“While firms have made a commitment to a strong compliance culture, there still is a lot of work to be done to bring consistency and continuity to most organizations’ compliance programs, “Avnet says.
“Throwing bodies at the problem will not necessarily protect the public from the next financial crisis. Firms need to ensure they have a strategic direction toward implementing sustainable and scalable compliance support models. This is where the need for outside consultants and legal resources comes into play. Organizations are starving for input and direction. Quite often, they don’t have the skill set internally to help build the cohesive model they are seeking,” Avnet says.
Even as consultants are helping businesses with significant elements of compliance, there may be an opportunity for compliance lawyers to collaborate effectively with compliance consultants.
“We are willing to collaborate with other consulting firms and law firms. If the net result is a better experience and outcome for the client, we are always willing to look at partnering with other firms,” Avnet notes.
Martino sounds a similar note in talking about Tower Legal Solutions’ compliance consulting business. “Should a situation rise to the level that might warrant legal advice, the case would be referred to a law firm,” she explains. “For example, if Tower’s provision of an anti-bribery service lead to the discovery of a bribery scheme, any legal defense would be managed by a law firm. The law firm would handle possible disclosures, government submissions, and litigation,” Martino says.
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