Compliance

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As reported this week by Law360 (subscription required), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently issued a reminder (Regulatory Notice 14-40) warning firms against the use of confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements that prohibit or otherwise restrict customers or anyone else (such as current employees) from communicating with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), FINRA, or any federal or state regulatory authority regarding a possible securities law violation.

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On September 18, 2014, InsideCounsel magazine held a corporate counsel conference to facilitate discussions on current legal issues. In sessions on governance and compliance, industry experts addressed the current top challenges that in-house attorneys face when managing enterprise risk.

Cybersecurity is no longer just a “technology” issue. It has become a business and legal issue. Compliance and management personnel must be trained and informed on the impact that cybersecurity risks present to the business. Companies must have a business response, not just a technical response, prepared for when something goes wrong. The question is not “whether” a cybersecurity issue will arise, but when.

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As the Supreme Court begins its 2014-15 term this month, it will be considering a number of securities cases, including the Omnicare case, which is scheduled for oral argument on November 3rd, and three other cases in which petitions for certiorari are currently pending before the Court. As discussed below, these cases raise significant questions concerning the standards for claims under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933, prosecution of insider trading, and the scope of disgorgement penalties in an SEC enforcement action. We also discuss IndyMac, another securities case that had been scheduled to be heard as the first case of the new term on October 6th, but was abruptly dismissed by the Court earlier this week.

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Ever since I wrote on ATL about going in-house through the compliance route, I’ve been getting emails with questions — almost every month and often several times a month. It seems that everyone and their sister is interested in compliance, from law school grubs to seasoned attorneys. I even get emails about this from people who aren’t in law at all. It almost makes me wonder whether I should be checking out some of those job posts myself!

And why not? According to Reuters, it’s Wall Street’s “hot trade.” And the Wall Street Journal considers whether compliance is a “dream career.” Salaries have been rising and demand for compliance professionals is high and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. So it’s no wonder that inquiring minds want to know. Many inquiring minds.

A lot of the questions I’ve been getting are pretty similar. And while I understand that sometimes one needs to respond to the same questions over and over and over and over again (those of you who are parents can sympathize), I figured it would be a much better use of my time more efficient situation for everyone to instead address some of those commonly asked questions in a blog post.

And for good measure, I reached out to a couple of compliance recruiters to get their expertise. So here goes…

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At a law firm, law matters. Law is the center of the institution’s universe, and it’s all everyone is thinking about.

It’s the other functions that don’t matter: “Another email from IT? Telling me about interfaces and gigabytes? Why don’t those clowns leave me alone?”

“Another email from finance hectoring me about time sheets? Don’t those morons know I’m busy?”

At corporations, law (and compliance) is an “other function.” The businesses are concentrating on their businesses, and law and compliance — along with human resources, information technology, and finance — are, at best, a means to an end. If you mirror the other “shared services” and send incomprehensible communications to the businesses, the businesses will soon realize that you’re just one of the pests, meant to be ignored.

Inevitably, if a business person accidentally steps over some legal line, you’ll hear that the business guy had no clue that the line existed: “Yeah, yeah. Now that you’re telling me about it, I understand that we have that rule. But how was I to know? The rule is buried on the fourth page of some impenetrable policy hidden somewhere in our computer system. I spend my time selling; I can’t waste time trying to make sense of your legalese.”

If you don’t sympathize with that guy, then you’ve been a lawyer for too long. His criticism is not just an excuse for having violated the rules; his criticism may well be the truth. How can you change that reality?

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Suppose your company has a system: All payments are run through the finance center in New York; all emails are encrypted by a certain process; all reports on a certain subject contain items 1 through 10.

As sure as I’m sitting here, someone on the sales side of your company will tell you that we must make an exception for his new client. For this client only, we should run the payments through Canada, use a different encryption service, or delete item 5 and add items 11 through 14 to the report.

Because you’re reasonable, you’ll explain that this isn’t possible: “We have a system that is hard-wired into the computers. We have 3000 different clients. We are able to offer clients only what the system permits. If we start making exceptions for particular clients, then costs will escalate and we’re sure to make mistakes. Please don’t ask us to tailor our systems to fit your client, because we just can’t.”

The sales guy will then sputter and turn red in the face: “But this client is different! This is the firm’s biggest client! And the best! And the one with the highest margin!” . . .

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Judy Sheindlin once told me, “don’t go to law school, the world has enough lawyers.” My response was, “that may be true, but are there enough ‘good’ lawyers.” I posit that the answer is no, there are not enough ‘good’ lawyers. We practice in a field where there is certainly of glut of licensed professionals. And unlike doctors, there is not a constant worldwide need for our services, no matter how self-important we have deluded ourselves to be. I wrote last week about attending the ACC Annual Meeting, and having an enlightened moment of how very much in this field I don’t (can’t) know. Not for want of desire, but because of the evolution of technology, and good old case law.

It made me truly feel for those folks tasked with compliance for their companies….

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* Sri Srinivasan was sworn in as a member of the D.C. Circuit by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who called him “fair, faultless and fabulous.” The man must have great shoes. [Washington Post]

* Things aren’t going very well for Steven Donziger in the Chevron / Ecuador case now, but then again, they never are. The Second Circuit denied his bid to oust the judge on the case. [Bloomberg]

* Dewey know how much this failed firm’s ex-landlord wants from 450 of its former partners? Somewhere in the ballpark of $1.6 million to $45.45 million, so it could be painful. [Am Law Daily]

* Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton has already named a new chairman. Congrats to J. Henry Walker IV, a man whose name alone makes it sound like he should probably leading something. [Daily Report]

* Time is running out for prosecutors to bring charges against those connected to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, but it looks like his niece, a Fordham Law grad, is in their sights. [DealBook / New York Times]

* The series finale of Breaking Bad airs on Sunday, and you must be very sad, so here are five compliance lessons to take away from the show. First and foremost, don’t ever hire a Pinkman. [Corporate Counsel]

* E.A. Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company settled the suit filed against them by college athletes, leaving the NCAA to whine, moan, and “take this all the way to the Supreme Court.” [Birmingham News]

* George Zimmerman’s wife says her husband “went on a victory tour” without her, and has no idea where he is. Clue: maybe he was advising Cybill Shepherd for her role on Law & Order next week. [Miami Herald]

I went through my first 360-degree review — where those above, beside, and beneath you in the organization all anonymously evaluate your performance — two years ago. Never one to shy away from abject public self-humiliation, I shared the result of that review in this column. I revealed that my biggest “blind spot” two years ago was in the area of celebrating the accomplishments of folks on my team: I thought I was pretty good on that score; those who worked under my supervision begged to differ.

I told you that I would fix that problem, and I did. During this year’s 360-degree review, my score for celebrating our accomplishments was a solid 4.0 — 0.9 better than two years ago, and precisely how I’d graded myself this time around. It had actually been pretty easy to solve this problem: I distributed emails celebrating our victories more often and to wider audiences; I stopped by folks’ desks to congratulate them on wins; and I was otherwise more sensitive to letting the world know when my merry gang of litigators did nice work.

Now that I’ve solved one management problem, however, another one naturally reared its ugly head during this year’s 360-degree review . . . .

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Contract attorney heaven.

Earlier this week, we took a look at a contract attorney project in D.C. that has been making the contractors sad. I mean more sad than normal.

We received a lot of actually interesting comments (!) in the thread after the story, as well as emails giving us more details about the project. It appears that the staffing firm, Compliance, has taken some steps to ameliorate the poor working conditions for the contract attorneys. It also looks like the working conditions could actually be improved if they dropped a Port-a-Potty in the middle of the conference room.

But it’s not all bad. Sometimes speaking out can lead to improved working conditions. Let’s take another look at how the other half lives, and you know, scare the bejesus out of 2Ls doing OCI right now who are really hoping to get jobs….

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