Out of the Shadows: Compliance and Risk Management LL.M.s

Law schools have created new programs to meet an increasing demand for legally trained compliance officers — an overlooked source of competitive advantage

Over the last several decades, the sheer volume of laws, regulations, standards, and guidelines that govern businesses have increased dramatically. When a business fails to comply, it can open itself up to lawsuits and serious financial and criminal liability.

In recent years, the risks of noncompliance have grown so dramatically that compliance has become one of the most significant risk areas that businesses face. This means that the roles of compliance and risk management officers are gaining importance in most businesses.

“These professionals often report directly to the chief executive officer or board of trustees, and have a seat at the table during critical policy discussions,” says Katharine Van Tassel, interim executive director of graduate programs in compliance and risk management at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

In response, a number of law schools have launched new LL.M. courses in governance, risk management and compliance. These programs, offered by the University of Connecticut (UConn), Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and more law schools, are designed to meet an increasing demand for legally trained compliance officers.

“The rapid growth in the volume and complexity of the laws, regulations, standards, and guidelines that govern businesses has resulted in an equal growth in demand for legally trained compliance and risk officers,” says Van Tassel.

Compliance jobs are hot

Mirroring the need for compliance experts in the private sector is the need for expertise in the public sector, creating a large and growing number of jobs in dozens of government agencies charged with enforcing laws, regulations, standards and guidelines, she adds.

It is no surprise that compliance-related jobs are one of the hottest growth areas in the United States, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting an estimated 30,700 jobs opening for compliance officers and 91,300 jobs opening for compliance managers over the next 10 years.

And these are well-paid positions. For example, according to The Health Care Chief Compliance Officers and Staff 2019 Salary Survey, average total compensation for compliance officers in the area of healthcare is $134,624.

However, while there is clearly a high demand these roles, the current shortages suggest that not enough attention has been placed on legal compliance and risk management in the past.

Van Tassel says: “In light of the growing demand for legally trained compliance and risk officers — and the need for compliance experts to work in the dozens of government agencies charged with enforcing laws, regulations, standards and guidelines — this is clearly an overlooked area of competitive advantage.”

LL.M.s in compliance: limited options, but growing

Law schools could play an important role here in driving up awareness, but course options are currently limited. Case Western’s programs in compliance and risk management are among only a few other concentrated graduate courses of study in the US focusing on these areas.  

Another option is the Compliance and Legal Risk Management LL.M. Concentration at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. Keith Swisher, professor of legal ethics, says the demand for legally trained compliance and risk officers has indeed continued to grow in a wide variety of business sectors, including finance, healthcare, industry, government, and non-profit organizations.

“For years, these roles have expanded and gained greater importance in corporations,” he says. “The training and professional development opportunities for these roles have also evolved impressively. We have a lot of grads who work in compliance or risk management roles. This trend will continue as the demand for their work continues to increase.”

But Swisher, too, says more needs to be done to raise the awareness of the importance of the compliance function in both businesses and law schools. “Although the approach has improved in certain companies or sectors, significant room still exists for private and non-profit entities, and even some governmental departments, for greater legal compliance and risk management attention,” he adds.

Increased attention on these areas can help organizations to avoid scandals, fines or penalties. The UConn School of Law certainly sees the benefits, as the law school established a new LL.M. course in Governance, Risk Management and Compliance in the summer.

The new program offers a comprehensive course of study in corporate and regulatory governance, compliance, and risk management. “Students will be immersed in the full range of courses that the program offers while also having the chance to do some practical training,” said professor Peter Lindseth, director of international programs. “This program is an ideal way for domestic and international students to gain the skills needed to work in a large-scale organization.”

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