General Counsel as the Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer

Over at the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics bulletin boards there was a great deal of discussion about whether the CECO should hold a concurrent role as general counsel or whether the positions should be split. Here are a collection of reasons:

  • In some industries, including healthcare, the government has specifically stated that it does not believe that the compliance officer and general counsel roles should be filled by the same person or that the compliance officer should report to the general counsel.  This position occurs in “compliance program guidance” issued by the HHS Office of Inspector General. Daniel Roach
  • The role of compliance is to unearth issues and potential issues while they are still inchoate – not necessarily the same as the GC who is generally reactive and then not beyond the specific question presented. Emil Moschella
  • I think the joint role could affect the integrity of the attorney-client privilege.  If the roles are separate then I think the privilege is less assailable on the grounds that the hat being worn at the time the alleged protected information was received that the individual was wearing the hat of the compliance officer and not that of the GC. Emil Moschella
  • Many of the processes that the Compliance Officer (CO) may wish to review, may have been previously blessed by the office of the GC so that they may not get the fresh look of the compliance office would give it.  Independence of the compliance review is questioned. Emil Moschella
  • The compliance and ethics function is not the business of giving legal advice.  It is a management function that calls for good project management skills. It calls for a focus on ethics and compliance, when often lawyers focus on just the law.  Joseph Murphy