What does it mean when we talk about international law? With expert research and insights, Seattle University’s Kelli Rodriguez Currie and Mark Chinen explained the foundations of this expansive field in the latest webinar hosted by Seattle University School of Law.
Mark is a Professor of Law and Fellow of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality. He earned his Master’s degree from Yale, and his J.D. from Harvard. He is particularly interested in international economic law and the legal issues that are raised by artificial intelligence.
The Basics of International Law
International law, particularly in how it relates to compliance, comes in two forms.
- Public International Law regulates the relationships between nation-states and international organizations, like the United Nations or NATO.
- Private International Law regulates the relationships between individuals or businesses when activities involve the laws of more than one nation.
Both forms, but especially Private, have a direct impact on business activities. “Often, companies are going to be engaged in business that crosses borders, and as soon as you do that, there is a strong possibility that the laws of other countries will apply,” Mark explains. That’s where the work of compliance gets complex and nuanced.
The current state of international law touches just about every aspect of life, and it does include business activity. Within it is corporate law, an umbrella concept. For example, when people go into transactional law or become corporate lawyers, it usually means that they are helping a company in two major areas: basic business deals (such as negotiating contracts) and the rules that govern corporations. Both have international aspects, and both have compliance implications.
International Law in Action
For example, one SU alum is using his degree in a contracts management role, working through major transactions involving all incoming and outgoing shipments from a port city. He is dealing with all of the rules and regulations that go into the actual carriage of the goods, meaning the kinds of contracts being used to protect both the buyer and seller.
But a compliance officer might find him or herself dealing with just about any rule or regulation; several of this alum’s contracts are governed by overarching treaties. “International law sets the parameters. I could easily see a compliance officer having to be concerned with the navigation of all these regulations,” Mark says.
Contemporary Compliance Issues
At the forefront of everyone’s minds in the technology space is artificial intelligence. It is actually the subject of Mark’s latest book, The International Governance of Artificial Intelligence, and extremely relevant to compliance. In this case, the concerns are about data privacy rather than shipment of goods, but the principles remain the same.
There are stringent privacy regulations there. Open AI, the developer of Chat GPT, is the subject of a number of administrative investigations or actions in Europe because there are concerns that the use of large language models might not comply with these privacy regulations. “Any company in the United States that interacts with these European regulations is going to have to navigate those regulations; that is exactly what a compliance officer would be doing at the international level,” Mark explains.
The Value and Rewards of Compliance in International Law
“Compliance is about ensuring that the organization for which you work is complying with all the applicable regulations and laws, as well as the internal policies to which that organization is subject.” In order for that to happen, you have to develop the kinds of legal and analytical skills that help you understand how a regulation or law is actually made and applied. You must be trained in statutory and regulatory frameworks, and how that applies to everyday business operations.
It takes a distinct skillset to relay that legal understanding and implement it into functional operations. The role of a compliance officer is highly generalized because you are working every day enmeshed in the particularities of an organization. You deal with subject matter experts, and a lawyer may be one of them, but see all of the pieces and how they fit together.
The Difference Between Lawyers and Compliance Officers
Speaking of lawyers, at one point does a compliance officer’s job end and lawyer’s begin? Lawyers are the ones negotiating and writing the contracts, but there is a space in the middle where legal knowledge is key — the space where a compliance professional thrives. “A compliance officer is bringing in the contract, treaties, and best business practices information, and trying to create policies and framework about how to implement it. It’s a fascinating intersection of skills.” Kelli adds.
One difference between compliance officers and lawyers is that it’s much more important for the former to be able to relate well to everybody in their organization. “Essentially, they are the ones who are going to be ensuring that on a day-to-day level, all of the business operations of their organization are compliant. It’s both required by law and a great practice,” Mark notes.
In a way, the compliance officer bridges gaps through communication and, simultaneously, possesses access to the heart of the workforce. When you step into the role, Mark reveals, you do get an overarching view of an organization, and also have the mandates required to analyze its inner landscape. That’s an exciting, impactful, and influential place to be. An MLS from Seattle University can help you arrive.