ALM Properties, Inc.
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A couple of years ago, I had a few weird flying experiences. It's not what you'd thinkthe flights weren't terribly late, or turbulent, and I didn't go anywhere too exotic. No, it was just my good, or strange, fortune to be sitting next to compliance types on a whole cluster of trips.
Who knew that these folks came in so many varieties? One gentleman cracked open his laptop and went through a laborious series of log-in steps (I was trying to doze, but couldn't resist peeking) to call up a spreadsheet, which he proceeded to peer at intently for what seemed like hours. (It was a transatlantic crossing.) I finally asked him what he did, and he told me he was an IT type charged with ensuring the integrity of financial reporting systems for a multinational. On other trips, I met up with a bank compliance officer, and someone who worked for a nongovernment group. Like I said, a strange coincidence.
I began to realize that it wouldn't be a bad idea to cover that beat more systematically. And we've done so in our regular coverage in these pages, along with a couple of magazine supplements and inserts.
But we've entered a new era here. Our online presence, CorpCounsel.com, suddenly has become a hot forum for in-house thought leaders on risk and compliance. It started innocently enough with a column or two by the dean of the in-house bar, Ben Heineman. He has staked out a consistent, and passionate, message about instilling ethics in a company, and how the general counsel should be charged with the function.
Then IBM Corporation's Robert Weber wrote a screed that didn't really argue with Heineman's point, but approached the issue differently. To reduce his argument to a couple of sentences, he said that good practices will naturally flow if the legal department does its job properly and does its lawyering as it should. But, he argued, the other corporate officers are equally if not more responsible for fostering a sense of morality.
And so the debate was joined. The next and current phase concerns governance and where the compliance function is located. As is typical, there are two takes on thismany argue for a compliance department that's separate from the legal department. Consultant Donna Boehme argued online in March forcefully and engagingly for this, saying that the vast majority (she cites a figure of 80 percent) of ethics professionals support such an arrangement. Heineman and others, such as Michael Peregrine, weren't taking it lying down, and made a case for keeping compliance inside the legal function.
And so it goes. I'm sure that we haven't heard the last of this discussion. And whatever the view, we're delighted to provide a forum. It's exactly what we were hoping to do when we moved to a continuously updated online presence. The platform gives us the opportunity both to cover more news and to give the corporate counsel community a place to share views and, occasionally, argue forcefully.
I hope it continues. Who's next?