PUBLISHED:April 20, 2022

Martinez, leading ethics and compliance scholar, joins Duke Law faculty


Veronica Root Martinez directs the Program on Ethics, Compliance & Inclusion at Notre Dame Law School.

Veronica Root Martinez Veronica Root Martinez

Veronica Root Martinez, one of the nation’s foremost academic experts on corporate compliance and the role of monitors, will join the Duke Law faculty July 1.

Currently the Robert & Marion Short Scholar and professor of law at Notre Dame Law School, Martinez’s scholarship focuses on professional and organizational ethics, compliance, monitorships, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. She is the inaugural director of the school’s Program on Ethics, Compliance & Inclusion and co-author, with Donna M. Nagy and Lisa M. Fairfax, of the forthcoming casebook Securities Litigation, Enforcement & Compliance (West 5th ed. 2022).

In 2021, Martinez was appointed to a four-year term on the National Adjudicatory Council of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  

“Veronica Root Martinez’s work as a scholar has a distinct and innovative focus on structures and processes internal to firms that shape their compliance with law,” says David F. Cavers Professor of Law Deborah A. DeMott. “Her inquiries extend to the roles that lawyers play within these processes. She’s keenly interested in how institutions function — and malfunction — as well as in how the law and regulation might respond. She will add an important new dimension to Duke’s existing strengths in business law.”

Martinez, who will teach Ethics, Contracts, and Securities Litigation, Enforcement and Compliance, as well as compliance courses, has received numerous awards, including this year's Distinguished Teaching Award, for her overall contributions to student life at Notre Dame and her work as an advisor to the school’s Black Law Students Association. During a fall 2021 visit to Duke she received raves from students after a guest lecture on compliance in a Business Associations class taught by Professor Gina-Gail Fletcher.

“She found a way to bring in some of the themes and topics that we’ve been talking about and show the students from a practical, real-world perspective how these theories of fiduciary duties and oversight liabilities can come up,” Fletcher says.

“The students really loved it. They were completely engaged with her and her teaching methodology. I actually had a couple of students write me to praise her and say they would be thrilled if she were to join the faculty. She’s a prolific scholar and a deep thinker, and she’s a fantastic professor who cares about her students.”

A graduate of The University of Chicago Law School, Martinez’s interest in corporate compliance and oversight is rooted in her academic background and practice experience. She majored in marketing and management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, gaining exposure to business disciplines such as organizational behavior that are germane to her current research. Prior to joining the Notre Dame faculty in 2012, she focused on regulatory work, internal corporate investigations, and governmental investigations in the Washington, D.C. office of Gibson Dunn. 

“I think that when you look at compliance concerns you must also consider ethics issues in tandem,” Martinez says. “Some people think that conversations about ethics should be saved for the business school setting, and the technical, legal, and regulatory stuff is more for the legal academic. But if you’re not thinking through concepts of ethics while you’re creating your compliance program, you’re probably setting yourself up for some problems down the line.”

She makes that point in numerous articles, including “Complex Compliance Investigations,” 120 Columbia Law Review 249 (2020), where she argues that complex corporate structures such as multinational firms are often burdened with information silos that hinder internal communication, and that they should focus on process-based reforms that augment compliance structures and bolster their ability to respond to information about compliance failures.

In “The Government's Prioritization of Information Over Sanction: Implications for Compliance,” 83 Law & Contemporary Problems 85 (2020), she examines why federal regulators and prosecutors fail to fully exercise their ability to sanction firms for engaging in misconduct. She argues that federal agencies have prioritized information gathering from firms regarding the nature of their compliance failures rather than punishing firms for them, yet have not created any mechanism for analyzing and disseminating that data to help other firms adhere to best practices.

“... When the federal enforcers fail to harness and share the insights they gather from firms, it wastes a unique opportunity to curb corporate misconduct in a broad-based manner by strengthening the very compliance programs they purport to incent,” Martinez writes. “Government prosecutors and regulators should consider how they might utilize information garnered as a result of firms’ cooperation in a manner that might improve the effectiveness of firms’ compliance on a widespread basis.”

“She thinks very deeply about the link between compliance and ethics and bridges areas that were not necessarily thought of as being connected,” says Fletcher, who first met Martinez when both were associates at Gibson Dunn. “That makes her exciting and unique as a scholar.”

A large segment of Martinez’s scholarship examines the role of monitors: independent parties who oversee compliance with court orders or other remediation efforts after an organization has had a significant compliance failure or been found to have engaged in serious misconduct.

Monitors help organizations to assess where the failure occurred, take steps to ensure it doesn’t fail again, and hold them to account. Yet, as Martinez writes in an article forthcoming in Harvard Law Review, monitors themselves receive little oversight and the public often is not privy to the results of a monitorship and the success or failure of a remediation effort, even when it is of public concern. In the paper, titled “Greater Publicness in Monitor Reporting,” she proposes federal interventions to increase public access to information on the results of monitorships.

L. Neil Williams, Jr. Professor of Law Brandon Garrett, who has written widely on corporate compliance and prosecution, says Martinez’s scholarship, which brings together research from a variety of disciplines and deep insights from practice, is helping to cement corporate compliance as a dynamic field.

“Many of our students and alums have developed wonderful careers in corporate compliance, and they will all benefit from Veronica’s vision and superlative scholarly contributions,” he says. “With the addition of Veronica’s energy in the classroom and as a researcher, there is no better place to study white collar law and corporate compliance than Duke Law.”

A key theme of her work is searching for the right incentives to encourage people within organizations to behave with integrity and ensure that those organizations operate at a high level, Martinez says.

“Most of us spend the majority of our lives in our workplaces, and if we think our workplace is dysfunctional in some way, if it’s engaged in illegal, unethical, or discriminatory conduct, it’s going to have a spillover effect in other areas of our lives,” she says. “While my work looks at a variety of areas and subjects, at core I am trying to help organizations function better so that the people within them can fully live out their lives with dignity.”

In two recent pieces Martinez addresses the business, legal, and ethical perspectives of corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices. Her essay “Equality Metrics” (Yale Law Journal Forum, June 2021), co-authored with Fletcher, calls for systematized corporate disclosure of workforce and supply chain demographics and proposes a set of five specific, measurable steps that firms can enact to identify and address racial bias and discrimination within their organizations.

In “The Diversity Risk Paradox,” 75 Vanderbilt Law Review 115 (2022), Martinez addresses the tension between the risk exposure created when a firm fails to adopt more than the minimum legally required DEI standards, and the risks created if it publicly commits to more ambitious initiatives and then fails to meet them. Since the end goal of DEI programs shouldn’t be merely to increase demographic diversity, but to create an equitable and inclusive culture, those initiatives that lead to such a culture should be prioritized. Diversity initiatives should then be assessed within that framework in terms of their relative risk, she writes.

With burgeoning interest in her fields of research, Martinez says she looks forward to honing her scholarship with trusted Duke colleagues like Fletcher and others she knows through her longtime participation in the Culp Colloquium and Emerging Scholars Program, an initiative sponsored and hosted by the Law School to develop a diverse pool of legal academics. On a recent visit, she was impressed by the level of engagement by the faculty during her presentation, and the specificity of input they gave.

“The Duke Law faculty has the greatest intellectual complement to the sort of work I do of any faculty in the country,” Martinez says. “I’m excited to be in a place that’s really going to push me in my scholarship. It is going to be a wonderful opportunity to take my work to the next level.”