Legal Employment Opportunities Tied to Corporate Compliance

In the Association of Corporate Counsel’s 2014 Chief Legal Officer (CLO) Survey, respondents identified ethics and compliance as the most critical issue they face. CLOs flagged regulatory/governmental changes and information privacy as the next most important areas of concern. In many organizations, these disciplines all fall within or intersect the compliance mission. As a result, legal employment opportunities have grown for those with compliance expertise.

What makes compliance so hot?

The compliance function grew in importance after the introduction of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which imposed strict accounting compliance standards on corporations. Previously, compliance had typically been a separate function from the corporate law department. However, by the time the financial crisis hit in 2008, compliance had started to come under the aegis of the general counsel in many companies. And as new compliance crises emerged in the wake of the economic downturn, even more businesses moved accountability for and management of compliance matters to their legal departments. This trend continues, with many organizations focused on strengthening their compliance teams.

Wanted: legal minds in finance

Demand for compliance officers has been particularly strong in the financial sector -- banks, hedge funds, private equity and the like. Current demand exceeds supply, and banks have resorted to wooing experienced specialists from competing financial institutions with generous salary increases. Banks have also taken to hiring specialized legal consultants to staff the gaps in required compliance expertise.

Jobs are typically grouped under the heading, “ethics and compliance,” although many departments make great distinctions between the two fields, creating separate ethics and compliance teams. Each law department is different. Companies naturally look for corporate counsel with expertise in the laws and regulations governing their specific business or industry.

For example, banks value prowess in the compliance issues of the mortgage business -- including the foreclosure rules imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regarding record-keeping, fair review and notification of foreclosure alternatives; and derivatives trading rules set by the Dodd-Frank Act. Expertise in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is in great demand following a series of high-profile scandals that rocked sectors active in international trade.

Following recent judgments against global banks for laundering drug cartel money, demand is also strong for compliance expertise related to money-laundering regulations. Professionals experienced in compliance issues in non-U.S. jurisdictions are highly valued as global enforcement becomes a reality. Proficiency in Chinese compliance is especially hot right now.

What do compliance officers do?

The work of a compliance officer doesn’t entail strictly conventional legal practice activities. The compliance officer and staff develop, communicate and police the company’s standards for legal and ethical conduct. This includes training and internal communications as well as monitoring possible areas of compliance risk and implementing corrective action plans for the resolution of current and potential problems.

The compliance team members also conduct periodic audits of compliance policies, working to ensure safeguards and controls are current and effective. They’re also responsible for establishing a reporting process for anonymous employee reporting of ethics and compliance concerns that may require investigation and resolution. Compliance officers respond to such reports as part of their larger mission to ensure the organization adheres to federal, state and industry regulations and standards.

Depending on the size of an organization, a compliance officer may direct and manage a compliance administration team that can include a compliance director, a compliance manager and often one or more compliance analysts who are typically responsible for conducting research on compliance rules and regulations; identifying potential compliance issues and weaknesses; collecting and analyzing relevant information; and recommending and implementing changes to strengthen compliance procedures and programs.

Salaries for compliance positions are based on level of responsibilities as well as experience and skills. Organizations having difficulty finding compliance professionals may offer a hefty compensation package to secure the expertise they require.

More perspectives on legal employment

For a broader perspective on salaries in the legal profession and how compliance jobs compare, consult the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide.

Do you have experience with compliance in the legal profession? Share your insights in the comment section below.