Every trial lawyer in Texas has heard of him, a legendary trial lawyer with a legendary name, Richard ‘Racehorse’ Haynes; who died over the weekend at the age of 90. He took up the mantel of great Houston criminal defense lawyers from Percy Foremen and never let it down. He cut his teeth on DWI cases and moved on to the toughest criminal trials in the state of Texas. According to his New York Times obituary, “Between 1956, the year he began practicing law, and 1968 he defended 163 clients accused of drunken driving and won every case, establishing one of the longest winning streaks in legal history. In the nearly 40 capital-punishment cases he handled, none of his clients were given the death penalty.”

Two of the highlights were getting T. Cullen Davis off from a 1st degree murder charge of allegedly killing his ex-wife’s lover. Then getting another not guilty verdict for the same man who was accused of soliciting the attempted murder of the judge in their divorce trial. According to his obituary, “He made something of a specialty of “Smith & Wesson divorces,” as he called them: cases in which wives solved their marital problems by killing their husbands.” Haynes went on to note, “I won all but two of those cases,” he told ABA Journal in 2009. “And I would have won them if my clients hadn’t kept reloading their gun and firing.” A big tip of my ten-gallon Texas hat to one of the greats.

Haynes was relentless in his cross-examination and the way he could connect with a jury. I thought of the ability to connect with your audience in the context of how a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner can help keep a compliance project on track in a corporate setting. Many such projects begin promisingly enough but they can lose momentum. It can be an issue to keep it on track. A recent article in the MIT Sloan Management review provided some insights which I thought applicable for compliance. In Protecting Your Project From Escalating Doubts authors Karen A. Brown, Nancy Lea Hyer and Richard Ettenson wrote how to “avert the cycle of doubt before it takes hold.”

The authors set up eight steps which will help you move forward. This does not mean there will not be questions, hiccups and bumps along the road. However, with proper preparation and communications any CCO should be able to navigate the path and conclude out the mission. The key is around communications.

It begins with “proving the concept”. The best way to do so is to take some steps, create success which breeds momentum. Keep these initial steps small so they can be digested, then build incrementally. You can use benchmarked data from other corporate compliance programs as a measuring tool. Also, if you have a setback or even failure at this point, it will be small and can be overcome. The authors stated, “Shorter projects are less likely than longer ones to be victims of diverted attention or changing priorities because shorter projects hit the finish line before they can be overshadowed by new initiatives.”

Do not rush the project to action. You must engage in an appropriate risk management process of forecasting, risk assessment and risk management. Here the authors noted, “those that exceed expectations and create superior value for their organizations — begin with a “long period of project definition” dedicated to clarifying the need for the project, planning the best execution method, and assuring stakeholder buy-in.” Moreover, this will invoke the five-P rule (prior planning prevents piss poor performance). The authors stated, “While responding to unexpected events will always remain a key challenge for project leaders, our research shows that no project can succeed without careful planning — for both the project’s technical requirements and the project’s reputation. Up-front collaborative planning across all aspects of the initiative can create a solid defense against the cycle of doubt because it builds stakeholder ownership and commitment, aligns priorities, clarifies expectations, results in comprehensive plans, and sensitizes stakeholders to knowable pitfalls and their solutions.”

Next is communication, which must be accomplished with both candor and regularity. As anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world knows, senior managers do not like surprises so you must communicate and it must be accurate. If surprises pop up, management may well wonder what else you have not been telling them. Remember that communication is a two-way street, so there should be dialogue with all your team members so you have an accurate picture of the project status from the ground up. Finally, your communications should be regular and timely. The authors stated, “No news is bad news” and that lack of regular communications can “exacerbate an already challenging situation by creating an information vacuum that engenders distrust and raises questions about the integrity of the project leader and team.”

Taking a page from any CCO handbook, there must be project champions, ambassadors and high-profile supporters. It can start with a project champion, who is “a central figure whose leadership credibility and visible support can generate consistent enthusiasm among important stakeholders.” However, it can expand to a group which the authors call a “platoon of advocates” and which they define as “the right combination of people whose functional backgrounds and collective clout can reach deeply and broadly into the organization to generate and sustain the project’s brand through triumphs and challenges.”

Finally, you may have to revitalize a project to get it on track by bringing in outside resources or even changing courses. An ambitious project may stretch your in-house capability too thinly and an outside consultant can help to put you over the hump by creating extra bandwidth and energize existing team members. Yet sometimes a CCO must step back, take stock and make changes needed to stay on course. This can require strong leadership but an important skill of a CCO (or any business leader) is “the judgment to recognize when there is little to gain from continuing along a losing path, the resilience to resurrect enthusiasm around the project’s “why,” and the courage to take corrective action with fresh thinking and a revised plan that reflects the project’s objectives within the current realities.”

By using these ideas as part of your project strategy you will have a good chance for project success.


This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2017