Copycat Compliance and the Ironies of "Best Practice"

33 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2022

See all articles by William R. Heaston

William R. Heaston

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School

Date Written: April 21, 2022


For too long, corporate compliance “best practices” have been hiding in plain sight. While they are readily invoked, compliance scholars have yet to examine them in any depth. This Comment provides a corrective, arguing that a confluence of inter- and extra-organizational forces drive many firms to engage in copycat compliance whereby they mimic other firms’ “best practice” compliance structures. This tendency reveals two potentially problematic ironies about so-called “best practices” in the corporate compliance domain. First, they tend to reflect common practices rather than practices that are, in fact, “best.” Second, a formalistic focus on copying common practices may well undercut some of the most important or “best of the best” practices in compliance management—the promotion of ethical behavior within corporations and the customization of compliance structures so that they mesh with prevailing organizational cultures. In light of these ironies, this Comment proposes a conceptual framework that may provide a basis for identifying more fruitful types of convergence on common compliance best practices. Such best practices would trade rote mimicry for a more functional approach that permits greater variation in compliance structures and processes to suit the particular operational, cultural, and ethical needs of implementing firms.

Keywords: Corporate Compliance, Corporate Governance, Best Practices, Convergence, Isomorphism

Suggested Citation

Heaston, William R., Copycat Compliance and the Ironies of "Best Practice" (April 21, 2022). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

William R. Heaston (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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