While developing the “Culture of Compliance” materials for the Enemy in the Camp continuing legal education course, I struggled for an accurate definition of a “Culture of Compliance.” There are lots of resources surrounding a Culture of Compliance – books, videos, lectures, white papers, etc. Few attempts have been made, however, to define it. I could not find a single attempt to define a Culture of Compliance in the context of a law firm.

To me, law firms are unique organizations in this regard as several of their collective sworn duties give safe harbor to those who intend to work against a Culture of Compliance. For example, the duty of confidentiality encourages groups within the firm to safeguard client information not just within the firm but within sub-groups in the firm. This lack of openness has shown to be fertile ground for non-compliant attorneys and staff employees (sometimes referred to as a Corporate Silo). To restate, the lack of openness resulting from the desire to protect client confidence gives a hidden enemy room to act out of sight.

In his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, explains why the definition is so elusive. The “Culture” is not one thing that can be identified. It is a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole – a system. His definition is found in his search to define morals:

Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.1

When defining a Culture of Compliance in a law firm (or elsewhere), each of these things or parts that make up the system has to be developed in such a way that they work together to form the Culture. Each thing or part omitted leaves room for a hidden enemy.


Brandon Blankenship
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  1. Haidt, Jonathan, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are divided by Politics and Religion, P. 224.