In-House Counsel

Moonlighting: Answers To All Of Your Questions About Compliance

Ever since I wrote on ATL about going in-house through the compliance route, I’ve been getting emails with questions — almost every month and often several times a month. It seems that everyone and their sister is interested in compliance, from law school grubs to seasoned attorneys. I even get emails about this from people who aren’t in law at all. It almost makes me wonder whether I should be checking out some of those job posts myself!

And why not? According to Reuters, it’s Wall Street’s “hot trade.” And the Wall Street Journal considers whether compliance is a “dream career.” Salaries have been rising and demand for compliance professionals is high and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. So it’s no wonder that inquiring minds want to know. Many inquiring minds.

A lot of the questions I’ve been getting are pretty similar. And while I understand that sometimes one needs to respond to the same questions over and over and over and over again (those of you who are parents can sympathize), I figured it would be a much better use of my time more efficient situation for everyone to instead address some of those commonly asked questions in a blog post.

And for good measure, I reached out to a couple of compliance recruiters to get their expertise. So here goes…

Q. Many postings require experience. What if I have none?
A. If a compliance posting indicates that experience is required, don’t necessarily let that deter you from applying. For junior or entry-level compliance positions, some companies will waive the experience requirement for lawyers and law students, even if they haven’t specifically said so in the job descriptions. For those companies, law practice and even law school years may count as compliance work years. If you’re looking at lower-level positions, check with the company whether the experience requirement could be waived for you.

For senior compliance positions though, you can probably assume that the company plans to hire someone who, you know, knows what they’re doing. But even then, keep in mind that companies will look at the overall picture of the candidate. For example, the number of years required is only a benchmark. If someone has fewer years than “required” but is overall a great fit (e.g., experience in the industry, impressive academics, etc.), the company will probably be very, very interested.

Q. What type of legal experience are companies looking for? What if I’m a litigator?
A. Good news. Many areas of law are transferable to compliance. Companies looking to fill compliance positions love candidates who have litigation experience and any other experience that involves dealing with rules and regulations, investigations, and consequences for when things go bad. So if you’ve worked for a business that’s gotten into a lot of trouble, that’s probably a plus!

Q. What are the salaries like?
A. Certainly, they tend to be lower than for attorney jobs. And as with any in-house job, it really depends on your experience, the size of the company, the region you’re looking in, etc. Non-attorney entry level compliance professionals will make a lot less than a first-year lawyer would at a large firm. If you’re a 7th-year attorney at a top law firm moving over to a large company’s compliance department, you would probably get a typical in-house salary range for someone your year. There’s a lot of data online. Here’s a cool U.S. News article which not only has salary info, but also a handy tool where you can also input your zip code to search for compliance jobs near you.

Q. Where should I look for jobs? Can you recommend some companies in New York City?
A. Check out large companies in industries that are highly regulated, as they’ll tend to have sizable compliance departments. For example, in the New York area, these would include companies in the finance/derivatives, insurance, entertainment, and pharmaceuticals (in New Jersey) industries. Also, look into the history of a company — if a company has gotten into compliance trouble in the past, they’ll tend to be more focused on compliance.

Q. If I’m considering going into compliance directly out of law school, should I still take the bar exam?
A. In general, lawyers have an advantage over non-lawyers in the compliance field. But come on, you’ve already invested a ton of time, effort, and money in law school. You may as well suck it up for a few more months and take the bar exam. It’s really not that bad — honest. (Okay, maybe it is, but you should really still take it.)

Q. Where can I find more information?
A. I know this should be obvious, but there’s a ton of information online like here and here. Try a basic search for whatever aspect of compliance you’re interested in and you’ll get several leads.

Other than browsing online, pick up the phone or go into the physical world to meet and talk with people who are in the industry. Find out about law school alumni. Or just ask any of your peeps at large companies to see if they can connect you with someone in their compliance department. There are also compliance professionals associations that you can reach out to, such as the Compliance Certification Board or the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics.

Final tip: Ask the person you’re reaching out to for a 15-minute chat. Because who says “no” to 15 minutes?? No one. And there’s a good chance that the conversation will go longer than that.

Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company or anyone she works with. Susan may share both her own and others’ experiences (especially the experiences of those who have expressly indicated to her that they must not under any circumstances be shared on ATL). You can reach her at and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.

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