Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pfizer and "Compliance"

So Pfizer, which made a high profile GC hiring just a little over a year ago, has been slapped again for illegal marketing practices, agreeing to a $2.3 billion federal fine. That's brutal enough, but what interests me is one of the non-economic conditions the feds imposed on Pfizer (yes, it was a "corporate integrity agreement", but that's about as much an arm's-length contract as DOJ consent decree is).

Under this agreement, Pfizer's "chief compliance officer" must report to the CEO, not the GC. Now, given Pfizer's record, perhaps that's not such a bad idea; obviously, this is an organization that needs some additional focus on compliance. However, check out this quote from Lewis Morris, chief counsel for the inspector general's office:

"The lawyers tell you whether you can do something, and compliance tells you whether you should. We think upper management should hear both arguments."

Pfizer's issues aside, this is an awfully narrow view of how in-house counsel should behave. Good business counsel should be able to give risk-adjusted advice - that is, both what you can do and whether you should do it.

No comments: