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Alternative Careers: The Myth of Compliance

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It's always fun to watch professors get into arguments with people online, be it with other professors or with anonymous students. Over at the Prawf's Blawg, there's a post about the increased number of law schools being sued, and whether they can get class certification. Skipping a lot of the details, one of the named plaintiffs eventually landed a job as a compliance officer, and a commenter said that the JD didn't help get that job and is actually a detriment to someone looking to get in to compliance. Professor David Groshoff (Western State Law, Business Center Director) responded:

I strongly disagree with Anon Oct 9, 2011 8:38:14 PM's assertion that "If you read the link above you will see that a JD is not an attractive credential for the highly mathematical job of compliance officer. Compliance officers aren't interpreting the law. They are applying formulas. The banks that hire such positions prefer economic and accounting degrees and not a JD who will philosophize when he should be calculating. The skills taught in law school are actually so useless that a JD is a black mark on your resume."

As a former Chief Legal and Chief Compliance Officer for multiple entities within a large well-known asset management firm/bank prior to entering the academy, a J.D. was *indeed* an attractive credential for a compliance officer. In fact, my J.D. was the sole reason that I essentially had two full-time jobs post-Sarbanes-Oxley (compliance officer on top of my existing asset manager duties).

In contrast to Anon's assertion, compliance officers often work with the law, and in particular, Administrative Law and Securities Law, anticipating, understanding, and bracing for regulatory schemes coming down the road, as well as interfacing with SEC attorneys. The skills taught in law school were, at least in this former CCO's experience, far superior to quantitative business skills alone.

And, yes, I often have my students consider regulatory compliance jobs from day-one, if they're interested, as these positions require an acute understanding of, and ability to synthesize, administrative, business, and securities law, along with basic knowledge of accounting and finance. At many firms, the legal and compliance personnel work in the same department. Based on my experience, these jobs are as "legal" and J.D.-worthy as many other in-house jobs.

Let's look at Groshoff's claim that the J.D. was the sole reason he had two full-time jobs after Sarb-Ox. From his faculty profile:

Before entering academia, Professor Groshoff spent over a decade as a Vice President with J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s high yield and distressed debt desk, working as an investment analyst, a discretionary special situations portfolio manager, and an adviser to high profile institutional and governmental clients.

He became the Chief Legal/Chief Compliance officer for various J.P. Morgan-related entities, including a publicly held closed-end registered investment company (Ticker: PHF) and several registered investment advisers.  He also served as the Senior Vice President and Associate General Counsel of a predecessor entity, Pacholder Associates, Inc.  Prior to joining Pacholder/J.P. Morgan, he spent two years working with an Ohio-based sports management agency.

We don't know when in his more than a decade at J.P. Morgan he became the Chief Legal/Chief Compliance officer, but the phrase "he became" means that he was working there and then got moved in to the new job. So, was the JD the "sole reason" he got the position? Unless we think that already working at the company in a, presumably, related position had absolutely nothing to do with it, no, the JD was not the sole reason. Maybe the JD helped him change roles, but what it means for the JD to be the sole reason he got the position is that as a fresh graduate, with no other work experience and just the JD in hand, he would have been given the job. ...Come on, we're talking about a high level position with a major bank, not academia. This is yet another example of the JD being confused with a "JD + some other really important credential." (Groshoff also has two MBAs, but we can't say at what point in his career he got them.)

As the chief compliance officer, odds are he had some say over who got hired, and his insider perspective might be of use. Maybe he didn't get in to compliance with nothing more than his JD in hand, but that doesn't mean he didn't see others doing that. To get an idea of how realistic it would be for someone to get a job in compliance with just the JD (and because of the JD), we turned to the job search website We searched for compliance positions and filtered for entry level jobs, and here's what the first ten results look like:

1. Compliance Coordinator at Essence Healthcare. High school diploma or equivalent required, Bachelor’s degree strongly preferred.

Bachelor's preferred is a far cry from JD preferred.

2. Compliance Manager at USAA. Requires Bachelor's degree or equivalent work experience, and 4+ years in banking related Audit, Risk, Compliance or Legal experience. Also requires "Knowledge of relevant banking industry regulations," and "Knowledge of bank regulatory compliance."

The Bachelor's or work requirement is basically another "Bachelor's preferred" position. It's unclear how a JD would play in as years of legal experience, since it's just years of education, not actual legal experience. And, 3 years of school is less that 4+ years experience. The knowledge requires also will rule out many fresh JDs, especially those who didn't take banking classes and are looking at compliance only because they couldn't find jobs practicing law.

3. Compliance Analyst at Aerotek. Bachelor's degree preferred. Job pays $32,000 a year.

Once again, Bachelor's preferred ain't JD preferred. And, while $32,000 is a shitty starting salary for someone with a Bachelor's and a JD, it's even shittier if $10,000 of that has to go to service your student loan debt. Remember, your loan payments are after taxes.

4. Compliance Audit Specialist at Beyond Media. Bachelor's Degree in Healthcare Administration or business related field required, Master's preferred. 1-2 years of related experience or training in the Medicare Advantage industry preferred or equivalent combination of education and experience. Must speak Spanish.

A JD is not Bachelor's in Healthcare Administration. Maybe they'd see the JD as a "business related field," but that's only if they don't look at your transcript and start asking what you learned in Property, Torts, Constitutional Law, and your Good Life and Living Well reading group.

5. Compliance Supervisor at Beyond Media. Bachelor's Degree in Healthcare Administration or business related field required, Master's preferred. 2-3 years of related experience or training in the Medicare Advantage industry preferred or equivalent combination of education and experience. 2 years personnel management required. Must speak Spanish.

This is the same job you didn't qualify for above, but now you qualify even less because the experience requirements have been ramped up. Maybe they'll consider your journal board position as personnel management though. But, that's just 1 year.

6. Compliance Analyst at Pacific Life. Requires 3+​ years of Life Insurance experience with a strong knowledge of life insurance principles and products or business experience in a financial services related field.

Any experience requirement automatically rules out anyone with just a JD in hand, and this job isn't asking for "or related education."

7. Compliance Program Manager at Zimmer. Juris Doctor Degree (law degree) from an ABA-accredited law school and at least 1-3 years of experience in compliance/​legal matters, preferably related to the medical device industry.​

They want a JD! They want a JD! They want a JD! Do we have a winner?

No! Still not a winner. This isn't "JD required," it's "JD + 1-3 years of experience required." Sorry, if your sole qualification is your JD, you're not qualified.

8. Compliance Examiner at FINRA. Requires Bachelor's degree in Finance, Economics, or Business or equivalent work experience in the financial industry demonstrating research/​analytical skills.​ A minimum of 1-5 years of directly related experience.​

With a lot of grease, you may be able to spin your JD into a Bachelor's in finance or business. But, the requirement of directly related work experience nixes a fresh JD's chances.

9. Trade and Compliance Coordinator at Amstad Industries. Bachelor's required and minimum 5 years experience in transportation compliance.

Even if your school offers a class in transportation compliance, those 2 credit hours are a little shy of 5 years of experience.

10. Compliance Director at Abbott Laboratories. Requires minimum of 6 years experience with, or exposure to, business functions such as compliance, legal, regulatory affairs, government affairs, and finance.

A legal education probably counts as "exposure to" whatever topics you're studying, so that's a start. You took Contracts, Corporations, Administrative Law, Corporate Finance, and Securities, so you know, you got a lot of exposure to these things. But, taking your 3 years of law school and discounting all the classes you took that weren't on point, you're looking at about 1.5 years of "exposure." Not quite 6.


What's the verdict? The anonymous commenter seems to be right. A JD is not an attractive credential for compliance jobs, or at least not attractive enough to get you the job. It may help, but you're going to need a lot more on your resume.

Now, you might be thinking our sample set wasn't really fair, that even though we filtered for entry level jobs, many of these jobs aren't actually entry level. A job that requires 5 years of experience, how is that entry level?

That's just how life works. Maybe it's a product of the current economic state, but true entry level positions rarely exist.

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