David Meltzer, general counsel of the American Red Cross.
David Meltzer, general counsel of the American Red Cross. (Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ)

When disaster strikes, The Amer­ican Red Cross is there. Its lawyers are, too — at least in spirit. Making sure employees behave ethically and follow the law is hard enough for any company, but the American Red Cross also manages hundreds of thousands of volunteers.

General counsel David Meltzer said the legal department and the organization’s investigations, compliance and ethics unit, which is under his command, place a priority on ethics and compliance training before the next emergency hits.

Volunteers are often on the front lines of disaster response and unfortunately have opportunities to commit fraud and abuse, Meltzer said.

To combat potential problems in advance, he said, the organization holds training webinars and is rolling out videos and online training tools. “Our compliance program has two parts: prevention and detection,” he said.

The Red Cross created outlets for employees, volunteers and the public to provide tips on fraud or other issues. Top management, about 350 people, must annually certify they’re in compliance with company ethics and conflict-of-interest policies, Meltzer said.

The legal department interacts with a host of federal regulatory agencies. Lawyers work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the organization’s collection and manufacturing of blood. The Red Cross’ international arm provides humanitarian aid across the globe, including countries where relations are strictly regulated by the U.S. government, such as Cuba. Meltzer serves as chief international officer, putting him a good position to coordinate compliance worldwide.When working with organizations overseas, Meltzer said, his department is sensitive to federal antibribery regulations and the Department of Treasury sanctions list.

The Washington-based legal department comprises a dozen lawyers, including Meltzer. They focus on particular areas, such as real estate or intellectual property, but also run a general practice and handle whatever legal work is pressing at the moment, Meltzer said. Recent projects included overseeing licensing and negotiations for apps that educate the public about how to respond to emergencies. By the end of 2014, Meltzer said, about 80 countries will license the Red Cross’ first-aid app.

Meltzer became general counsel in January 2013. “One of the things I’ve learned is when you come into a new job, you sit back and spend some time, several months, assessing what are the needs, what are the gaps,” he said. “Much to my happiness, I concluded no significant changes were needed.”

Holland & Knight partner Kevin Coventon, a trusts and estates lawyer who advises the organization, said the legal department is often more forward-looking than its counterparts at charitable organizations in finding ways to contribute to the bottom line, such as centralizing bequest files across hundreds of chapters and going paperless.

The American Red Cross has “very sharp attorneys,” he said.

COMPANY BIO

Name of company: The American Red Cross
Headquarters: Washington
Industry: Disaster relief
No. of lawyers in the D.C. area: 12
No. of U.S. lawyers outside D.C. area: 0
No. of lawyers outside U.S.: 0
General counsel: David Meltzer

KEYS TO SUCCESS

♦ Recruit and retain experienced lawyers who are motivated by your organization’s mission.

♦ Provide multiple means of discovering and reporting fraud, waste and abuse to stakeholders such as employees, volunteers and the public, with well-advertised hotlines and an open-door compliance presence.

♦ Utilize multiple means of educating stakeholders about compliance, such as face-to-face meetings, webinars, online and Skype training, ethics days, annual conflicts of interest re-certifications and public websites.

— David Meltzer