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A mix between outside counsel and in-house attorney, compliance attorneys are the Liger of the legal industry. They've managed to straddle both the corporate and private practice worlds and they've been getting a lot of press as the solution to legal unemployment and corporate regulation.
Why all the hype? The work of a compliance attorney will be familiar to most in-house lawyers, though the compliance attorney generally makes only a fraction of an in-house lawyer's salary.
Companies facing growing government regulations are increasingly looking to compliance attorneys to help them to adapt to new regulatory frameworks, particularly in the healthcare and financial industries. Many such attorneys work as outside consultants while others are hired directly as internal corporate compliance agents.
As with in-house counsel, much of a compliance attorney's work is preventative in nature. That can include reviewing government filings, helping to create corporate policies, or ensuring conformity with laws like Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act. For that reason, a job as a compliance attorney or compliance officer is often seen as an entry point to an in-house career.
Compliance work can also include some work that in-house attorneys might not do. For example, some compliance attorneys also spend their days training personnel and reviewing corporate social media messages, according to U.S. News. Many compliance attorneys are often just compliance officers or compliance analysts with J.D.s. A lot of the work doesn't constitute the practice of law.
As such, the work is often not rewarded with an attorney's salary. Most compliance analysts at midsized companies earn between $62,500 to $84,000. That's less than first-year in-house associates, who earn between $66,000 and $100,000, but it's comparable to a starting attorney at a small firm.
A job in compliance can be a way to start a legal career. At the same time, bringing on compliance workers can help lighten the legal department's load without destroying its budget. The Association of Corporate Counsel regularly identifies ethics and compliance as the number one category of concern for corporate legal departments, followed closely by regulatory and government changes. That's exactly the work compliance attorneys are created to handle.
Like in-house counsel, a good compliance officer will be familiar with business and able to work closely with non-lawyers. A background in highly regulated industries is good, as are familiarity with administrative, business, and contractual law. Those considering a career in compliance shouldn't worry too much about the smaller salary. Compliance workers have room to rise and, unlike their colleagues in firms, work pretty consistent 9 to 5 hours.
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