Harvard Law School – The Practice – July 2016
What do compliance officers, social media marketers, and 3-D designers have in common? They are all members of relatively new specialties, attempting to carve out areas of expertise to meet the evolving demands brought on by economic, technological, business, and social change. Once these fields have emerged, it is easy to forget that there was nothing inevitable about them and that all new specialties struggle to define themselves in contrast and in competition with older players in the field. They must make themselves seem distinct, uniquely qualified, and irreplaceable—despite their recent entry into the marketplace.
This is certainly true for the field of compliance. Since its emergence in the early 1990s, compliance work has grown from a set of tasks into a full-blown specialty, replete with specific training programs, professional associations and organizations, conferences, codes of conduct, academic research, and even lobbying. Indeed, compliance is now considered a critical component of how companies, organizations, and institutions function. Nevertheless, questions remain about who should manage this important function and how it should fit within the larger organizational structure. In particular, compliance is often overshadowed by broader conceptions of the legal profession, even as champions of the specialty attempt to establish it as a field unto itself based on expertise and skill sets broader than just law. As Michele DeStefano argues in the lead article to this issue ofThe Practice, whether or not compliance should be departmentalized from the related work of the in-house legal department remains an open—and hotly debated—question. Related to this is determining whether lawyers are best suited to do compliance—and therein whether it is even a profession unto itself. What sorts of skills and training do compliance professionals need? And what position should they have within the organization?
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