Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pulled from a large cast of historical heavyweights to motivate the compliance community at the 2018 Annual Conference for Compliance and Risk Professionals. His bottom line message to the lawyers, compliance officers and other risk professionals in the crowd: if we all do our part, both our companies and our country will be the better for it.
It must have been a welcome break for the harried public servant who has had to spend so much time dealing with all the Trump-related theatre. And he seemed to relish the opportunity to motivate the compliance community to do the right thing in assisting DOJ in its enforcement mission. But what was perhaps most striking about his words were the simplicity of what he was plugging:
When a company creates and fosters a culture of compliance, it creates value. Compliance is an investment. . . . People want to do business with companies that they perceive as honest and reliable. Compliance mitigates risk, making companies more valuable and less likely to encounter unanticipated costs that may result from protracted investigations and penalties.
To bring the point home, Rosenstein called upon a number of literary and political greats for some historical grounding. Among his most colorful mentions were Dr. Seuss and William Shakespeare. Quoting from Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go, Rosenstein recited: “You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care. About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’ With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet. You’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”
And with Shakespeare, Rosenstein corrected the common misconception that Shakespeare was poking fun at lawyers with his oft-cited “let’s kill all the lawyers” line in Henry VI. As Rosenstein explained, the words actually come from the villain Dick the Butcher who was scheming to take over the government. Shakespeare was thus making the point that without lawyers, nobody would need to follow the law.
Rosenstein closed by calling directly upon the compliance community, especially the lawyers, to “obsess over [the] details,” to perform the “close reading,” to dot all the I’s and cross all the t’s, to build up the strongest internal compliance program possible. Only then will DOJ be able to focus its enforcement energy on the corporate criminals who do not operate under any kind of compliance program and “who post the most dangerous and imminent threats to the American people.”
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