Recently a Corporate Counsel reporter decided to ask the five largest law firms about their internal compliance programs, and was met by either 1) platitudes or 2) crickets. In most cases, the reporter’s call was transferred to the firm’s PR manager faster than you could say “billable hour.” Nothing to see here!
This is curious, since you would think that law firms would want to show clients that their “expert advice” on compliance programs is backed by some institutional experience with such matters.
And the debate continues. Last week a law firm partner posted an “Apologia” for why law firms don’t have “typical” compliance programs (shorter version: they’re “special”). Although the author has produced a thoughtful and detailed piece on the many ways that law firms discharge their professional ethics responsibilities, we still hear crickets when it comes to the kind of meaningful compliance program envisioned by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations. (Hint: the Guidelines don’t have any “special” exemption for law firms, which are clearly covered as “organizations.”)
Another explanation comes from law firm consultant John Remsen Jr.: “Law firms like autonomy, not rules. It is a pretty loose form of governance.” We think law firms could benefit from the same robust approach to compliance as the clients that they advise . . . about compliance.
In this spirit we offer some “inconvenient truths” for the law firm management committee:
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