At last month’s IC SuperConference, I had the pleasure of connecting in-person with many of our readers. It’s an annual treat for me. It also served as a reminder that most attorneys really have just one primary question for recruiters: “What’s hot?”
This year, it is a very easy question to answer. Compliance jobs are steamy hot, and they come in many forms. The most rapid headcount growth is occurring within heavily regulated industries, such as financial services and health care. These are not always highly paid positions, or even positions requiring a law degree. And yet, attorneys with industry expertise are filling many such roles.
The most exciting development is taking place at companies in less heavily regulated industries. Manufacturers, information services companies, retailers and many others are tasking their law departments with tackling growing regulatory obligations and even with assuming risk management responsibilities. An increasing number of general counsel are taking on the additional title of chief compliance officer. An entire session at SuperConference was dedicated to the pros and cons of that very dynamic.
In my view, it makes complete sense for compliance to fall within the law department’s fiefdom. Attorneys are well positioned to interpret regulatory schemes and guard a company against violating them. Interestingly, though, many attorneys view this kind of work as somewhat boring and un-sexy. Unique deals and cases can be more interesting than policymaking and monitoring.
My friend Paul Lippe wrote eloquently about the difference between proactive compliance work and reactive legal work in his recent "New Normal" column. Paul’s company, Legal OnRamp, is helping many financial services companies lower their compliance costs. Noteworthy in my view, they are doing it with lawyers.
Not all new compliance jobs are 100 percent compliance jobs, by the way. Many compliance duties are simply getting tacked on to evolving job descriptions for commercial attorneys at mid to senior staff levels. In fact, it is increasingly rare to see an inside counsel job description without the word “compliance” somewhere in a bullet point.
It’s the use of the word that matters. An understanding of the FCPA in the context of contract drafting is one thing, for example. Training sales reps to comply with the FCPA in the field is another.
The need for highly specialized regulatory attorneys is nothing new. Think of inside counsel positions responsible for interfacing with government agencies such as the FDA and SEC. The growth is coming in areas such as data privacy and the aforementioned FCPA that apply across a very broad spectrum of industries.
As law departments take on more and more training, monitoring and prevention work, demand for inside counsel with industry specific compliance experience will outstrip supply.