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Top 10 Ethics & Compliance Lessons from 2016

Business ethics Column
I am not sure what I thought I was getting into when I stepped into the ACC booth at the Annual Meeting in 2015 in Boston. Somehow, though, I walked away having taken on the responsibility to write a year’s worth of articles for the Ethics & Compliance column for When I returned to my office, I knocked out the first four columns without any difficulty, but wracked my brain with the remaining six

Part of the challenge when writing for an industry-focused publication like ACC Docket is knowing that your audience is likely more experienced and educated than you — the writer — are. Ethics and compliance is the heart of many of our jobs. While many in-house attorneys may not specifically be in compliance roles, we all deal with ethical questions on occasion. At the very least, we have all learned lessons in hindsight. While these are often the hardest lessons to learn, they are also the most valuable.

With that in mind, I decided that my farewell (for now) article for the Ethics & Compliance column should highlight the most helpful advice and experiences from my articles this past year. Looking back, I found myself coming to the following conclusions, which are informative across a number of disciplines within the corporate attorney world:

“Wrestling with the Court of Conscience”

“How do we maintain our own standards of integrity when we are bombarded by dishonest and unethical conduct around us? . . . Are we acting honestly in our own actions as attorneys, and would our coworkers say so? . . . I do believe the fact that my conscience is always ready to be a bit bothered is a good sign that I am at least focused on the right way to act. And therefore, if I am listening to my conscience, I can be assured that I am considering the right implications. It is up to me to make the right decision after having been thus counseled. . . .”

“The Little Things”

“The person who came up with the phrase ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ certainly wasn’t an attorney. . . . Go ahead and sweat the small stuff — people who don’t, often end up wishing they did, because those little things hurt the worst.”

“What Would You Do?”

“I often tell the people I work with that I prefer not to ‘police’ the company. Instead, if I’m doing my job well, I’m actually the insurance policy that keeps the company out of harm’s way. But, being a passive insurer is not a great way to keep an active company out of trouble. I do think we need to wear the symbolic police uniform every once in a while, though . . . .”

“The Benefits of an Educational Approach to Compliance”

“It’s my personal observation that people do not like to be told what to do. . . . If I can educate [people] as to why a certain rule exists, by either detailing the potential harm, or demonstrating the benefits, they are much more likely to comply. . . . [I]f you can take the time to develop meaningful and educational trainings in order to increase compliance you well reap many rewards, including less time ultimately spent on correcting issues.”

“How to Act When Regulators Come Knocking”

“[A visit from government agents] lasted less than two hours, and was not as adversarial as I had expected or been accustomed to in the past. There were likely some reasons for this posture, which I honestly think may have been somewhat in reaction to how we received the agents and what our attitude was going in. The . . . agents asked a relatively easy task of us during our conversation, and because it was a small thing, I felt comfortable promising near-immediate compliance . . . which also put us in the frame of being cooperative and conscientious of our obligations with regulatory agencies. The remainder of our conversation was easy when put in this context.”

“Being the Deposed”

“It has been a long time since I questioned my memory and my worth as an employee like I did during the deposition process. . . . A healthy dose of self-confidence is essential for a witness. I’ll have to make sure that I have a little more faith in myself the next time I’m asked to participate in a similar proceeding.”

“What Am I Worth? Finding Your Why Inside and Outside Work”

“While I am wrestling with the value with how much I’m worth at work, though, I can’t forget that all has very little to do with how much I’m worth as a person. . . . Focusing on the right things — both in my life and at my job — helps me to be aligned with the right issues which will then lead me to greater success and worth. And then maybe I won’t need to worry so much about establishing just how much I’m worth. It’s really not the right question to ask.”

“The ‘Counsel’ in ‘In-house Counsel’”

“[W]hen I do get . . . coworkers in my office, I’ve observed that what they really want is a willing listener. . . . You can often just see in people’s eyes that they want to unburden themselves of some issue or statement, and when they are done the relief is almost palpable. Their relief is certainly not due to anything I’ve done other than to be that sounding board or that safe place to talk . . . .”

“Scary Stuff: How to Cope When Work Keeps You Up at Night”

“You usually don’t need to go through a hard time alone. Even if the issues are confidential, there will always be someone you can turn to . . . . A lot of your colleagues in the [ACC] have been through similar issues and have shared their insights with others. . . . We all enjoy feeling like someone else has been through it and survived.”

What a great word to end up a year-long column on: “survived.” It has been my hope that over the last twelve months or so, you’ve seen at least one thing that you’ve found helpful in my writing, or — as my last article points out — realized you that you’re not in this by yourself. Thanks for the ride.

About the Author

Casey Harris is the Ethics & Compliance columnist, and the vice president, general counsel, and secretary for Univera.

The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.