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The number of companies that are separating the chief compliance officer from the general counsel’s office is rising slightly, according to a new study co-sponsored by the Association of Corporate Counsel.

The “2013 ACC/Corpedia Biennial Benchmarking Survey on Compliance Programs and Risk Assessments” [PDF] questioned 630 compliance and risk management professionals around the world. Corpedia is a global compliance consultant with U.S. headquarters in Phoenix.

The survey showed that 39 percent of respondents report to the chief executive officer, while 36 percent report to the general counsel.

Many experts disagree on separating the GC from the compliance function. Former General Electric Company general counsel Ben Heineman Jr. has argued here and here that the GC should maintain control over compliance.

But compliance consultant Donna Boehme, a columnist for CorpCounsel.com, sees good reason to separate the two.

Noting the survey results, James Merklinger, ACC’s vice president and GC, said, “There is still a significant number of CCOs who do report to general counsel. But what I hear from members is more and more they are making compliance a separate function.”

Merklinger told CorpCounsel.com Monday that the separation makes sense to him, because “legal has enough on its hands.”

Besides, he explained, the CCO can do the fact-gathering for an investigation, and that process is not privileged. The compliance officer can then hand off the findings to the legal department, which can render an opinion or take action—and that can be privileged.

Merklinger noted the study’s most significant finding was also the most obvious: “Compliance is still an issue that is not going away.”

He said funding constraints continue to pose problems for compliance personnel, as the survey showed budgets have remained fairly consistent year over year, in spite of new economic issues and regulatory changes.

One finding that surprised him was how little compliance training is given to corporate boards of directors. Some offer no training, and nearly half of respondents indicated spending less than one hour a year training their directors—and this includes 37 percent at companies earning more than $4 billion a year in revenues.

“I see this as a missed opportunity,” Merklinger said. “From the practical side, it’s important for the directors to understand the challenges that a company faces.

“But there is also an indirect value to in-house counsel,” he went on. “It is a great opportunity to show the value of the legal department to the board, to show the directors why they have you.”

Other findings from the survey:

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