Should a general counsel also hold the chief compliance officer (CCO) title? Associations that have sprung up in support of the CCO function say definitely no and advocate for a direct reporting relationship between a CCO and CEO, while other experts believe there are strong benefits to combining these roles.
Objective research offers insight into how companies are actually approaching the topic.
And that is: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. A Deloitte survey—released earlier this year, and the best stats I could find on the topic—states that only 17 percent of CCOs also hold the GC title. But that certainly doesn’t mean that 83 percent of companies handle compliance separately from the law department. Far from it. Many companies still don’t deploy the CCO title at all, while others have attorneys and/or non-attorneys with compliance responsibilities who report directly or indirectly to the general counsel’s office.
Moreover, I take the survey with a grain of salt. Of the 209 “qualified” survey respondents, I suspect most are large, worldwide enterprises with significant compliance needs and the economic resources to build robust compliance functions with separate CCOs, if desired.
Bottom-line: Compliance is still a legal issue, regardless of how organizations structure the function. Even when companies announce a new CCO who reports to a CEO, he is usually an accomplished lawyer. And in my rather biased view, lawyers are ideally suited to fill any compliance role, regardless of the reporting relationships. I discussed this in more detail recently in InsideCounsel.
For our GC readers with oversight for compliance, regardless if you hold the actual CCO title, I have a simple message: You can hire excellent compliance attorneys within the existing structure of your law department. Look for more than just subject matter expertise. The best candidates have experience with project management and training. I like to see relevant real world experience prior to law school. A former educator, for example, presents the kind of communication and people skills you will want. Drafting the right compliance policies is one thing. It may even be easier to use outside counsel for much of that. Putting those policies into practice and getting buy-in at all levels of an organization—that’s the highest value of a good in-house compliance attorney.
Here is another way to think about this topic: Many GCs without securities expertise nonetheless carry the corporate secretary title and responsibility. They hire an experienced securities attorney to handle the actual work.
By hiring the right people, you can build an effective compliance function under your law department umbrella.