Teaching Compliance Part I of III

by Veronica Root Martinez 

This is the first in what is a three-part series of blog posts describing my experience teaching compliance at Notre Dame Law School.

I first began teaching a compliance course in the fall of 2015.  At the time, there were not many compliance courses being taught within law schools, and I was aware of only one casebook on the subject.  I began, as many professors do, by gathering syllabi from individuals currently teaching the topic.  Most of the syllabi I was able to obtain were of courses taught by practitioners that included significant skills-based components, which, although valuable, was not where I wanted to focus.

Instead, I decided to tackle teaching the course in a manner that I hoped would allow students to think through the different roles they might play within compliance efforts, followed by a few classes dedicated to specific compliance areas in an attempt to allow students to better understand how their role might look in practice.  To do so, I draw on enforcement, compliance, behavioural ethics, and professional responsibility materials.  Each class session has one dedicated case study to help students understand the concept being presented.

In Corporate Compliance & Ethics, I begin the first module of the course by providing students a foundation in what compliance is and where it comes from.  At the same time, I introduce them to (i) behavioural ethics literature and (ii) the way the Rules of Professional Conduct do and do not apply to a practice focused in compliance.  I then turn to the importance of self-policing and internal enforcement within firms using Enron as the case study. 

In the second module, I focus on different compliance actors.  This is the meat of the course.  It allows students to understand the different ways they might interact with or participate in compliance efforts.  We begin by studying the role of regulators, prosecutors, and courts.  We then spend a class session on each of the following: gatekeepers, whistleblowers, investigators, remediators (e.g., monitors), and private enforcers.  In this part of the course, we have covered case studies that include Wells Fargo, Deflategate, the General Motors ignition switch scandal, and Penn State.  This method of teaching, which is admittedly more akin to many business school courses, allows students to apply the underlying concepts to real world examples.  In particular, it allows them to think through what they, as lawyers, would be responsible for in each situation. 

In the third module of the course, we have traditionally focused on the FCPA, antitrust, the False Claims Act, and Title IX.  In this module I try to provide them with a variety of enforcement and regulatory sources of “law,” so they get a sense of the grey areas (e.g., Dear Colleague Letters) from which compliance requirements emerge.  Additionally, they are able to take the concepts from the first two modules and then apply them to these specific compliance areas that can have quite different risk and monitoring challenges.  I have, of course, picked rather extreme examples as case studies (e.g., Siemens; Baylor), but they present students with the stark realities of what can happen when compliance programs fail and allow them to think through how they might have avoided or prevented similar compliance failures from occurring.

In the fourth module of the course, the one that has changed the most over the years, I attempt to merge theory and practice.  Most recently, we have focused on conflicts of interest and sanctions for compliance officers, but in the past I have covered the rise of global compliance programs and assigned actual compliance policies and documents.

This course has been successful and rewarding.  Students like it.  I feel as if they learn information they might not have otherwise been exposed to in law school.  And I’ve even had some students follow-up with me after the fact to express how the course helped them in various summer employment opportunities. 

Veronica Root Martinez is an Associate Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.  Her scholarship is available here.


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