WHAT IS COMPLIANCE?
A bright spot in the legal job market is compliance work. Many compliance professionals are not attorneys; however, this is one job market where a JD can put a candidate at a competitive advantage.
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and globalized, more businesses, non-profits and not-for-profits need assistance navigating the increasingly complex and substantively broad maze of state, federal and international regulations. Because compliance failures are serious and can both precipitate legal action and destroy a company's reputation, compliance practice is challenging. Compliance practice calls for attorneys who are capable of exercising sharp and wise judgment that balances a company's need to be ethical and legal with the need for growth and profitability.
Many law firms possess compliance expertise in a broad variety of legal areas and industries. Increasingly, however, compliance professionals are working either in-house or for consultancies that specialize in assessing and implementing compliance mechanisms for their clients. Additionally, a good number of the attorneys who work at state, federal and international governmental agencies also do compliance work.
What distinguishes a compliance attorney from the typical law firm attorney is the compliance attorney's skillset and the nature of the relationship between attorney and the client. Obviously, the compliance attorney must have expertise in a specific area of law. However, a compliance attorney must also be able to use that expertise to assess, create, implement and monitor concrete risk avoidance plans of action for the client that work within the practical context of the client's business.
In order to be effective, the compliance attorney must master their client's internal structures (executive board, management and specific departments), understand the interactions between those structures and appreciate the nature and personality of the players involved. For example, an attorney seeking to create a data retention policy would need to know every department in which data is internally collected and appreciate the business and personal relationships between those departments in order to fully assess company risk and anticipate potential breaches. Additionally, a compliance specialist must be familiar with the relevant regulatory agencies and learn to collaborate effectively with agency personnel. More and more, industry compliance professionals partner directly with the governmental agencies to proactively shape and conform a company's policies and practices to the dictates of law.
WHERE DO COMPLIANCE ATTORNEYS WORK?
Compliance attorneys tend to be specialized. While an exhaustive list of those specialties is not possible, here is a partial listing of some of the more common practice areas:
- Advertising Compliance Attorneys advise advertisers, public relations, advertising and media firms on issues specific to advertising media and trademark law.
- Antitrust Compliance Attorneys work to ensure that their clients operate within the proper scope of the antitrust and anti-competition laws.
- Banking Law Compliance Attorneys work on behalf of banks and other financial institutions to ensure compliance with state, federal and international banking law, securities regulation and anti-money laundering laws.
- Corporate Compliance Specialists work to ensure that corporate management and board entities adhere to their own corporate charters, rules and by-laws.
- Data Retention Compliance Attorneys guide clients through the increasingly complex maze of data retention laws.
- Healthcare Compliance Attorneys advise healthcare providers, such as nursing homes, psychiatric centers, health maintenance organizations, hospitals and medical professionals on issues unique to health care providers such as physician recruitment, the acquisition of physician practices, medical staff relations, credentialing issues, licensing, reimbursement and other administrative issues, to name a few.
- Privacy Specialists work to shape what clients in all industries can legally do to obtain, store and utilize the increasing volumes of data these companies now possess. These jobs are usually on the company side but are sometimes with plaintiffs and government.
Federal Regulatory Agencies that may hire compliance attorneys:
- Consumer Product Safety Commission: enforces federal safety standards
- Environmental Protection Agency: establishes and enforces pollution standards
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: administers and enforces Title VIII or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (fair employment)
- Federal Aviation Administration: regulates and promotes air transportation safety, including airports and pilot licensing
- Federal Communications Commission: regulates interstate and foreign communication by radio, telephone, telegraph and television
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: insures bank deposits, approves mergers and audits banking practices
- Federal Reserve System: regulates banking and manages the money supply in the United States
- Federal Trade Commission: ensures free and fair competition and protects consumers from unfair or deceptive practices
- Food & Drug Administration: administers federal food purity laws, drug testing and safety and cosmetics testing and safety
- Interstate Commerce Commission: enforces federal laws concerning transportation that crosses state lines
- National Labor Relations Board: prevents or corrects unfair labor practices by either employer or unions
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission: licenses and regulates non-military nuclear facilities
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: develops and enforces federal standards and regulations ensuring working conditions
- Securities & Exchange Commission: administers federal laws concerning the buying and selling of securities
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED IN PURSUING A COMPLIANCE CAREER...
1. Select foundation law courses that will acquaint you with the basic areas of law. You should consider: administrative law, antitrust, corporations, healthcare, securities regulation, intellectual property and technology law.
2. Coursework that will help you to understand the structure and governance of businesses is particularly helpful. For example:
- Business Law 126 - Corporate Compliance Programs: serves as an introduction to corporate compliance programs;
- Business Law 270 - Business Organizations: emphasizes law as it applies to the organization and functioning of corporations;
- Business Law 498 - Corporate Governance Law and Practices: focuses on the law and practice of corporate governance
3. Gain practical experience and enrich your knowledge by devoting at least one of your summers to working at a law firm that specializes in your specific area of interest.
4. Seeking out internships at the agencies responsible for administering your particular area of interest. Internships with a government agency will help you to more fully understand not just the law, but the agency's priorities and concerns. An attorney interested in environmental compliance would, for example, seek out an internship with a state or federal environmental protection agency.