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Building a Positive Relationship with Legal and Compliance Staff

It is difficult to build a culture of compliance. One of the biggest challenges facing a company is to transform the relationship between employees and the legal/compliance staff.  Employees avoid in-house counsel and compliance officials because they are viewed as “deal killers,” or people who “Just Say No.”  Employees know that dealing with lawyers or compliance staff can only lead to trouble, discipline or slowing of any business initiative.

It is hard to transform the working relationship between business and legal/compliance staff.  It requires forward thinking and a complete attitude shift to bring legal/compliance staff into business operations.  To the extent there is a barrier between legal/compliance and business staff, the overall effectiveness of the compliance program will suffer.

How do you overcome the barrier and change the perception?  Meet and greets are not going to work.  Compliance training is not the warmest and friendliest place to strike up conversations.  Instead, as in any relationship, communication, contact and trust are essential.  The more contact and communications the more perceptions can break down. 

In many ways you cannot blame employees from avoiding lawyers and compliance professionals.  As I always say, it is easier to say “No” rather than say “Let’s find a way to make your idea work.”  Being a problem solver rather than a naysayer is the key value for lawyers and compliance staff to demonstrate to the business team.

Legal and compliance staff have a lot to offer in making a business successful (believe it or not).  It is important to give legal/compliance a seat at the table when considering new business ventures so that legal/compliance issues can be resolved early and addressed in the initial stages.  In the end, the hope is that legal/compliance issues can be a value-add to the overall business equation.  A potential joint venture may be more attractive if the company demonstrates early commitment to compliance issues.  In today’s global economy, it is possible for businesses to gain a competitive advantage by integrating legal/compliance issues into the business equation.    

Compliance is not just a paper issue, or even about adopting appropriate procedures.  It is about people.  If your legal/compliance staff has no interpersonal skills, compliance will be difficult to accomplish.  On the other hand, if the legal/compliance staff has the ability to relate and listen to others, they can be key players in advancing the company’s compliance program. 

How do you make sure you have a positive legal/compliance team?  It comes down to senior management and the tone that they set for compliance.  If senior management makes it a priority for the legal/compliance team to demonstrate its ability to work with the business side, then the message will be communicated.  If the compliance/legal staff does not adhere to the message, it is time to bring on new players to join the legal/compliance staff.

Tone at the top needs to be translated into tone in the middle and even tone at the bottom.  The legal/compliance staff is important representatives for the overall compliance program and need to be exemplary members of the compliance team.  If not, compliance is going to be a difficult.

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2 Responses

  1. Kevin L. Warmack, E.J.D. says:


    This is one article that should be sent to every compliance officer, general counsel, etc! Additionally, the gist of it should be included in all training.

    Although I am a compliance officer and I’m “Johnny Law” , we have to be sensitive to the business and be attuned to the ways in which to make rules work for the firm and not against the firm. In most of the rules and regulations, there is the black and white of the rule and then there is that middle ground of the gray where the firm can operate successfully while following the white and black. The role of the compliance officer is to make sure that the firm is operating in that gray as well as the black and white.

    Compliance has to “come down from the mountain” and be a part of the real world. Then you can be a success for your firm and in turn your firm can be successful as well.

  1. July 12, 2012

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