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Government regulations permeate the workload of a law department

A large portion of what in-house lawyers cope with, unravel, interpret and apply circles around regulations promulgated by the federal government. The Economist, March 19, 2011 at 5 says that “Some 1,000 pages of federal regulations were added each year Mr. Bush was in office. A quarter million Americans have jobs devising and implementing federal rules.” Our nation’s laws and the profusion of regulations that embellish them pervade the concerns of corporate lawyers in all practice areas.

The amount, complexity, fluctuation, and level of enforcement of regulations without cavil drive corporate legal headcount and spend (See my post of June 15, 2005: Sox compliance costs; Dec. 14, 2005: legal intensity of regulation; April 19, 2006 # 1: complexity of federal employment regulations; Feb. 25, 2008: service providers for bill and regulation tracking; and March 29, 2010 #2: Sarbanes’ compliance costs.).

One of my posts yesterday mentions a trillion dollar cost of federal regulations (See my post of March 27, 2011: methodology might show alignment and cost avoidance.). I feel obliged to add my balancing belief: government regulations do far more than simply impose costs. One industry’s regulatory burden – clean up strip mines, install catalytic converters, or light railroad crossings, for example – could be millions of people’s improved quality of life. A compliance “cost” – pasteurize milk comes to mind – benefits every child who drinks milk. All regulations observed impose costs but they generally aim to reduce the externalities otherwise splattered out by a laissez faire, caveat emptor economy (See my post of July 27, 2007: regulation that lets purchasers of airline tickets benefit from lowered prices.).

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One response to “Government regulations permeate the workload of a law department”

  1. Susan C says:

    As in-house counsel in a highly-regulated (actually doubly- or triply-regulated, since it’s a state university providing health care services), I agree that the costs to comply with ever-expanding regulations is staggering. While the purpose of the regulations is undoubtedly for the protection of others, I disagree with your premise that the regulations actually ACCOMPLISH the protection. In my personal experience, MOST regulations accomplish NOTHING in terms of actually protecting anyone, but they DO succeed in generating jobs and a raison d’etre for a bunch of bureaucrats, a TON of work for the regulated parties, and, at least in health care, form the basis for the additional regulators (needed to police all the new regulations) to extort financial settlements (because the regulations are so unclear and convoluted that even if you think you did it right, it will cost you literally millions to argue with a regulator that takes a contrary view).