Posted: April 28th, 2014
In our recent Lunch & Learn, WF Law alum Ben Wright (’05) discussed legal compliance and the different tracks to a career in this popular and growing field. For students interested in a career at the intersection of business and law, a position in compliance offers an excellent opportunity. At the same time, the compliance field also holds opportunities for those students who enjoy detailed work researching legislation and policy.
Most corporations, banks, and other entities did not have internal compliance groups until around the early 2000s, following the collapse of Enron and the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002. After SOX, employers began to establish divisions solely focused on internal audits and ensuring compliance with various federal, state, local, and trade regulations. This work requires keeping up with a vast amount of regulations, some of which can vary county by county. Corporate compliance divisions deal not just with federal and state law, but also independent regulatory boards. For example, Mr. Wright’s work in the field of prescription drug regulation involves ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local laws (some of which can vary county by county), as well as regulations from state Boards of Pharmacy and state Departments of Insurance.
With this vast (and growing) number of regulations, it is almost impossible for any corporation to ensure compliance with every single one. These regulations also change quite frequently. Having an in-house compliance team is vital in order to keep up with the ever changing regulations. Compliance work generally appeals to two types of personalities – those with a business mindset, who enjoy balancing legal and business considerations, and those who enjoy detailed research.
If you are interested in the intersection of law and business and are comfortable “putting out fires” (i.e. working in a fast-paced environment, balancing multiple interests, multi-tasking, etc.), then a management position in compliance could be a good fit. Compliance positions often require employees to have one leg in business and one leg in law: It is important to know the law so that you can advise the company appropriately; however, it is also essential to understand how certain events can impact a business and how certain initiatives can be successfully implemented. For the compliance jobs that focus on keeping up with regulations, one would have to enjoy a lot of detailed work, such as spending a lot of time reviewing policy material and directives.
The two biggest areas of growth for compliance careers are currently banking and healthcare – both highly regulated industries. If you’re interested in a job in compliance, Mr. Wright made several recommendations:
(1) Get subject-matter expertise first. Many of the compliance officers Mr. Wright works with were experienced healthcare attorneys. You probably will not get hired straight out of law school into a management role in compliance, so it is important to gain experience for 2-3 years first.
(2) If you want to go into compliance work straight out of law school, look to the business side. Companies might hire you on the business side, at an “analyst” or “specialist” level, allowing you to work your way up.
(3) Robert Half Legal (a staffing agency) has begun to contract with some companies for compliance work and is starting to develop a niche market.
Here are some additional ideas for exploring a career in compliance:
(1) If you want to beef up your resume, the Healthcare Compliance Association offers a certification program [also has an online jobs board]. More information is available here: https://www.hcca-info.org/
(2) If you’re interested in the financial industry, look for job titles such as “compliance analyst,” “loss mitigation specialist” or “regulatory assessment” – many large banks and financial institutions will list opportunities in compliance on their websites (e.g. Goldman Sachs)