LL.M.s in Corporate Compliance

Law programs focusing on corporate compliance are growing in popularity following the financial regulatory reforms of the past decade.

Fairly or not, when many people think of big business these days, they think of corruption and fraud.

Thanks to infamous scandals such as the fraudulent loss reportage at Enron in 2001, as well as the financial crisis of 2008 and ensuing recession, concern about corporate malfeasance is high.

But that means that legal regulation is also on the upswing--and so are jobs that require a legal knowledge of corporate compliance.

"On the corporate and finance end, after the financial crisis in 2008, there were so many additional regulations put in place, such as Dodd-Frank [Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010], and those “regulations have really had an impact on how companies do business," says Pam Kroh, director of graduate programs at Widener University Delaware Law School, which offers a corporate law regulatory analysis and compliance LL.M. concentration, as well as an LL.M. in corporate law and finance.

"Just keeping up with [those requirements] and powering a compliance program in the organization where you work is what we seek to help students accomplish."

Widener is one of several schools that offers LL.M. programs in this burgeoning field. New Jersey's Seton Hall launched an LL.M. in Financial Services Compliance in September 2016. Warwick University School of Law in the United Kingdom offers an LL.M. in International Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation. London's BPP University offers an LL.M. in Financial Regulation and Compliance. Fordham University launched a corporate compliance LL.M. in 2014, which focuses on banking and financial regulations. And New York University Law offers a program Corporate Compliance and Enforcement.

And beyond the UK and the USA, compliance LL.M. programs are offered elsewhere in the world. The University of Hong Kong (HKU), for example, offers an LL.M. in Compliance and Regulation; CY Cergy Paris has an LL.M. in Taxation Law, Business Law and Compliance on offer; and Fribourg University offers an LL.M. in Compliance as well, among others.

Officials say that these LL.M. programs are growing in popularity in response to a field that's expanding to meet new compliance requirements triggered by financial reforms such as Dodd-Frank, which brought about the greatest change to the United States' financial regulations since the Great Depression. Just as healthcare compliance programs grew in popularity as a field in response to the Affordable Care Act of 2010—“Obamacare”—corporate compliance programs are now expanding to meet the demand for professionals who understand how to help companies avoid the scandals and snafus that have dogged the financial world in recent decades.

Timothy Glynn, senior associate dean at Seton Hall, says that following Dodd-Frank, financial service regulators are focusing on encouraging the industry to implement effective self-regulatory mechanisms--which they need lawyers to understand, especially given raised industry standards.

Alice Brightsky, senior director of compliance programs at Fordham, agrees.

"Compliance is a hot and competitive field. It is getting harder and harder to 'do' compliance well for very long without a keen appreciation for the underlying 'why' of what's being done. The standards and the stakes have been raised too high to wing it," says Brightsky in an email.

All of this has led to an increased interest in these fields among students.

"It really is growing," says Glynn at Seton Hall, which is offering its new corporate compliance program either online, in-person, or in a hybrid format, as well as a compliance concentration as part of its J.D. students.

"We launched this program because being close to Wall Street, being in the New York area, we see the demand for those with a legal background in the field of compliance or financial services companies,” Glynn says.

Officials say that these programs are a natural fit for students who hail from certain fields. According to Brightsky from Fordham, which has now offered its compliance LL.M. for two years, students with a background in corporate law, tax, or finance are naturally drawn towards studying compliance.

Kroh from Widener says that students who pursue an LL.M. in corporate compliance are typically already practicing lawyers, working for companies such as Walmart or Johnson & Johnson, and are looking for that extra boost to their skills and expertise that they may not have received in their prior schooling.

"It seems like compliance is not the kind of thing that people go to school with an intent to do, in undergrad or J.D.," says Kroh. "But now these attorneys are finding themselves in a compliance position and are finding themselves seeking an LL.M., seeking to improve their skills. If they study regulations that impact compliance in different industries, they can exceed in their current positions or help enhance their other opportunities."

One draw of the Widener program, says Kroh, is that it serves as a qualifier to gain certification from the Compliance Certification Board. This board requires professionals who want compliance certification to take an exam and complete 1500 hours of relevant work experience, but a degree from Widener's LL.M. program exempts students from the work experience requirement.

A myriad of work opportunities after an LL.M. in compliance

Graduates from LL.M. programs in compliance usually find themselves well-equipped to fill many roles, officials say. Graduates with this degree can serve as legal counsel for companies that want to beef up their corporate compliance infrastructure.

"Sophisticated compliance operations need effective compliance counsel, to counsel them on what the law is, and what compliance structures may or may not be appropriate. One of the services [corporate compliance experts] provide is expertise on compliance," Glynn says.

Officials say that some students also go into the enforcement side of compliance after graduating from these programs.

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