Craig's Corner For Counsel: Compliance

Saturday, March 1, 2008 - 01:00

As every corporate counsel knows, regulatory compliance has become much more complex in recent years. In addition, the risks and costs of failing to comply can be enormous. This month, we will focus on the topic corporate attorneys are discussing with me on a daily basis: Compliance. From Enron to Qualcomm, compliance has remained on the front burner for the media, for the public, and of course for our businesses. Regulation continues to increase as agencies, legislatures, and courts respond to compliance failures and create safeguards to avert future problems. How can companies reduce risk, limit liability and preserve audit trails so they can demonstrate to regulators and courts that they've done what they could and should do to comply?

As the compliance workload has increased in volume and complexity for general counsel, law firms now view compliance as a growing revenue stream as they pick up outsourced work from corporate legal departments.

So, as I speak with in-house corporate attorneys, I hear common needs and concerns about compliance. General counsel are aware that their compliance staff may not be legally trained, yet they are tasked with legal research and analysis. While GCs can delegate work to their staff, it comes back to their desk for research guidance and legal review far too early in the workflow process. Another comment I am hearing is that compliance is a very time-consuming process, with little assurance that it is complete because resources are spread out, and it is difficult to update the materials quickly. And finally, there is just an overwhelming amount of work in compliance, and so any time-savings available, especially to get up to speed on unfamiliar topics, is really necessary.

Because of our customers' comments and their increased workload in compliance, West began evaluating ideas for a streamlined compliance product. We recently announced the release of Westlaw Compliance Advisor. "Compliance Advisor was built around compliance professionals' day-to-day workflow, and it delivers on this," said Darla Agard, senior director of Product Development at Thomson West. "The underlying law and its interpretation, laid out in plain English, are made easily accessible through our new navigational tools and robust search engine."

Westlaw Compliance Advisor brings to both legal and non-legal researchers a full complement of compliance resources from Thomson West, including federal and state statutes and regulations, cases and agency decisions, 50-state surveys, editorially created summaries from Oden and iComply, Health Policy Tracking Service, Pratt and Sheshunoff materials, and National Association Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) in a one-stop shop. In addition, users can easily keep up to date on pending changes in state and federal laws and regulations.

Compliance professionals are concerned about the thoroughness of their research because of the difficulty in navigating the vast amount of information. West's Navigator, a browsing tool created for compliance professionals by compliance experts, makes research easier. Navigator organizes statutes, regulations and agency materials into categories relevant to compliance professionals. Simply select a topic, and with one click you'll retrieve relevant federal and state statutes, regulations and bulletins, with editorially added information like effective dates and links to the full-text.

Compliance professionals also find it challenging to keep up with changes. The Latest Update feature on Compliance Advisor makes it easy. Latest Update automatically updates regulations, statutes and bulletins, and provides plain-English summaries of the changes.

If you would like to hear my complete interview with Thomson West compliance experts on Compliance Advisor, please go to Westcast http://feeds.feedburner.com/Westcast. You may also view a Flash demonstration of Compliance Advisor at http://west.thomson.com/compliance/.