It wasn't until the advent of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) in 2002 that compliance became a standard component of corporate structure. But the prominence SOX directed toward compliance hasn't faded into the sunset. As legal trends go, it seems that the focus on compliance only increases in fervency.
The recessionary climate of the past two years certainly hasn't done anything to slow the movement. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigations, scrutiny of overseas activities under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and employment law issues have all contributed to the increased attention.
Daugherty notes that nearly every in-house lawyer plays some role in compliance. Project-related compliance questions tend to be better served by legal departments because they beg the question of whether the ideas are legal. A company's day-to-day adherence to statutes, however, needn't necessarily be overseen by a lawyer.
Regardless, Daugherty says compliance works best when a defined officer is in charge. And in most cases, that officer should be a very experienced lawyer because the job is so varied.
Mitchell says compliance programs can learn a lot from how quality control departments have evolved over the past few years. Initially, quality control involved catching problems in the finished product. The second phase built quality checks by a manager into the assembly line. In the final phase, each person running a machine held responsibility for ensuring quality.
"The idea that really resonates for me is that every employee is part of the compliance staff," Mitchell says.