8 Compliance Careers for Law Professionals

For many legal professionals, pursuing a career in compliance offers distinctive opportunities in a fast-paced environment. Compliance careers span many fields, so knowing the available options is essential. To gain a better understanding of these opportunities, individuals should explore how to enter the field of compliance, the salary expectations for compliance attorneys, and potential fields to consider in compliance. Compliance careers are challenging yet highly rewarding, and a legal degree such as an LLM is a great starting point to begin your career journey.

A compliance officer leads a meeting with board members.

How to Work in Compliance

The main function of working in compliance is to ensure that a company or organization adheres to state and federal regulations, breaks no laws and follows a code of ethics. To work in compliance, an applicant should be an ethical individual capable of following and enforcing the rules. Professionals in the field should also be analytical and comfortable with investigating potential compliance violations. Finally, compliance officers need to exercise sound decision-making skills.

There is no specific educational requirement for compliance officers or compliance attorneys. However, a bachelor’s degree is typically the minimum to pursue a career in the field, regardless of industry. Degrees that are focused on business, finance or law are all relevant choices. For those who wish to become compliance attorneys, a law degree such as an LLM can open the door to several compliance careers in a range of different industries.

Compliance Attorney Salary

According to the compensation website PayScale, compliance attorneys made a median annual salary of approximately $78,000, according to June 2021 data. Salaries can vary according to factors such as education, experience, the region in which the job is located and the specific employer.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of lawyers as a whole will grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029.

Types of Compliance Careers

All companies and organizations need to ensure they are adhering to a code of ethics and following laws and regulations, which means there are compliance career options across many different industries. The following sections will break down the most popular compliance careers by industry for those looking to enter the field.

Business and Corporations

Corporate compliance officers are in higher demand than ever due to increasingly complex federal legislation. Legal experts in this field often assume roles such as chief compliance officer (CCO), where they specialize in fraud detection, regulatory requirements and industry guidelines. They generally perform in executive positions, and they work closely with fellow executives to improve transparency and ensure a system of checks and balances within the organization.

A law degree is recommended for candidates seeking positions as corporate compliance officers, along with compliance certification or experience. An advanced law degree, such as an LLM, is typically not required but can help applicants stand out to employers. Candidates should also have either advanced education or experience in business or finance, along with strong leadership and management skills.

Government Agencies

Compliance professionals who work for federal, state or local governments need to have a comprehensive knowledge of Service Contract Labor Standards, cybersecurity regulations and governmental selection policies. All specialists in this field generally need to maintain a dialogue with the appropriate agencies and regulatory bodies to be able to provide strategic counsel. Most agencies prefer candidates to have a comprehensive understanding of risk management, along with strong analytical skills.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Legal professionals who specialize in non-governmental organization (NGO) compliance often advise either for-profit companies or charitable organizations about federal compliance statutes. Those who work with NGOs should have a high level of understanding of all relevant operational, financial and employment laws in the foreign countries in question.

To work in this field, candidates generally need an advanced degree and either certification or experience in compliance. They must also have experience in risk management and fluency in relevant foreign languages.

Financial Sector

Compliance experts are in high demand in the financial sector, which is subject to many federal regulations. Executives in this field handle risk assessment and management, and they may work closely with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC).

To become a financial compliance specialist, candidates generally need an advanced law degree and a compliance certificate or extensive experience in the field. Since the federal government has applied or adjusted numerous regulations within the financial sector in recent years, specialists in this field must have a current knowledge of Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR), the USA PATRIOT Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and other relevant statutes.

Health Care

Legal experts who work in health care compliance often serve as in-house counsel for businesses in the health care sector, such as medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. Health care compliance executives generally oversee policy, training and education efforts and monitor all federal, state and industry compliance guidelines. They also counsel companies on federal privacy laws, offer strategic help during product development, and manage document retention and preservation procedures.

To work in the field of health care compliance, candidates can benefit from having an LLM degree and prior experience working in compliance. Strong analytical skills and collaborative abilities are also important. In addition, candidates should have in-depth knowledge of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations as well as federal health care and privacy laws.

Hospital Networks

Those who work in health care law compliance often serve as compliance officers for hospital networks and companies in the medical or health care sector. In this role, compliance officers audit and manage risk, develop and monitor organization-wide compliance plans, and offer compliance training related to health care law. To do this, they need in-depth knowledge of how Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare, Medicaid, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) statutes apply to the organization.

To become a health care law compliance officer, candidates typically need an advanced law degree with certification in compliance. They should also have a comprehensive understanding of current federal and state health care laws as well as knowledge of how potential changes to these laws may affect the company.

Human Resources

Legal professionals who work in human resource (HR) compliance do not generally engage in traditional HR tasks, such as interviewing or recruiting. Instead, they work with HR colleagues to develop and implement policies that take federal and state compliance issues into account. Many have strategic or advisory roles, which require them to work closely with an executive team. Some HR compliance specialists may also handle compliance reporting to government entities and advise on best practices related to HR compliance.

To take on a managerial role in HR compliance, candidates typically need a master’s degree and experience in HR. They must also have experience in risk management and a thorough understanding of U.S. labor or employment laws and how these statutes apply to the employer. In addition, they should have comprehensive knowledge of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination for protected classes.

Employment Law

Attorneys who specialize in employment law may work in-house in an employment law executive role, or they may work for a larger firm where they give counsel to clients as needed. Wherever they work, attorneys who specialize in employment law compliance must understand how relevant federal legislation, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), applies to the company and its pay structure. Attorneys in this field must also have a comprehensive understanding of applicable regulations that come from the United States Department of Labor and any legislation that applies to employment within the specific industry.

To become an employment law compliance attorney, candidates should have an advanced law degree, along with more than a decade of practicing employment law. Candidates should typically expect to fill strategic roles as they offer legal counsel, thought leadership and collaborate with HR colleagues.

Pursue a Career in Compliance Today

With so many opportunities to consider in the compliance field, many LLM degree holders and students are pursuing this unique specialty. Compliance officers and compliance attorneys are valuable resources in any industry, as evidenced by the growing job market for compliance careers.

Visit USC’s Gould School of Law online to learn more about how you can pursue a compliance certificate concurrently with an Online LLM degree.

Recommended Readings

LLM Curriculum

Master of Laws (LLM) Degree Online

University of Southern California Admissions



AAPC, What Is Healthcare Compliance?

CDC.gov, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

Congress, Patriot Act

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

Federal Reserve, Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review 2020

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)

HHS.gov, About the Affordable Care Act

Indeed, How to Get a Compliance Job

Investopedia, How to Get a Job in Compliance



PayScale, Average Compliance Attorney Salary

Protiviti, Top-of-Mind Compliance Issues for 2021

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lawyers

U.S. Department of Labor, McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)