Thoughts on Compliance Job Market

Today I want to circle back to the state of the job market for compliance professionals, because I’ve seen several items lately suggesting that while the market remains robust — it’s also a bit haywire.

First is a report released earlier this month by Wolters Kluwer, the Future Ready Lawyer Survey 2022, which polled more than 750 legal professionals across the United States and Europe. One big finding that grabbed me: 70 percent of corporate lawyers say they are contemplating leaving their jobs within the next 12 months, and 26 percent say they are very likely to do so

To be clear, those numbers are for corporate legal professionals generally rather than compliance officers specifically — but I suspect they’re a good approximation for the corporate compliance profession regardless, since compliance generally is a subset of the corporate legal world. 

Moreover, 86 percent of respondents said the Great Resignation has had a somewhat or very significant effect on their legal team. So even if you personally want to stay with your company, it’s quite likely that you’re still grinding through the consequences of that unstable personnel landscape because so many others are bolting for greener pastures elsewhere. 

Source: Wolters Kluwer

Of course, that instability can turn into a self-supporting spiral: so many coworkers come and go that you can’t manage the workload any more, and bigger strategic projects get sidelined while you spend all your time addressing urgent issues. Which leaves you frustrated and burned out, so you decide to leave too. 

Source: Wolters Kluwer

In theory a company could break that cycle by investing in technology that would allow its remaining humans to manage compliance and legal work more efficiently; and by recruiting the best IT and legal talent. In practice, Wolters Kluwer found, plenty of companies struggle with those goals too. Only about 35 percent of respondents said their companies currently had staff able to run such systems, and only 35 percent said their companies could recruit and retain the necessary people if they didn’t have them.

So I don’t know if compliance and legal teams are drowning, but they certainly seem to be paddling furiously just to keep their noses above water. (If  you want to share your own observations with me confidentially, email me at [email protected].)

Meanwhile, Recruiters Vanish

At the same time we have all these legal professionals looking to quit their corporate employers, Corporate Counsel also had an intriguing article about corporate recruiters ghosting their job candidates. What’s up with that? 

The article referred to one post on LinkedIn making the rounds these days, which told the story of a legal candidate with stellar credentials. She interviewed for an in-house job seven times, even meeting folks like the head of procurement and the vice president of marketing — and then the company offered her half the compensation she’d been expecting. When she pushed back on the low-ball offer, the company ghosted her. 

I’ve heard similar stories from compliance officers often enough to believe this is true. The recruitment process is broken, with Compliance and legal candidates suffering the consequences. 

I’m not sure this is entirely the recruiters’ fault. They often have little choice except to go by what the automated recruitment software and the req order tell them — so we’re at the mercy of algorithms we didn’t write, matching keywords without understanding the nuance and context that a human could identify with a few moments of thought. Recruiters are also at the mercy of CFOs and department heads setting compensation budgets, and these days cutting those budgets in fear of some recession that may or may not ever arrive. 

We also need to remember that so many other executives are also quitting or working full tilt (see previous section above), that they can’t provide the guidance or decisions that recruiters need to move a job opening along. 

That said, recruiters and hiring executives do have some blame here. Some clearly have no idea what a compliance role actually entails. For example, I’ve heard of general counsels who didn’t know that FCPA compliance programs and anti-kickback programs both deal with the same issue: tracking bribery payments. I’ve seen recruiters adamant that experience in legal is more important than experience running compliance programs, so they hire lawyers for senior compliance roles with zero experience running a program. Yeesh.

The big question is whether recruiters are ghosting candidates just because their companies are being indecisive, or because the actual number of compliance jobs out there is decreasing. If it’s the latter, that could lead to lower salaries for compliance professionals. The last compensation survey I saw found that CCO compensation actually rose 9 percent over the last two years, to an average total compensation package of $430,000. (I’m still waiting for the more comprehensive Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics compensation survey, due sometime later this year.)

Justice Department Driving Job Hopping

One last point comes from a long-time corporate compliance professional who raised an interesting point with me after release of the Monaco Memo and the attendant speeches from Justice Department officials. 

This compliance professional wondered: Will all this focus on recidivist corporate offenders and compliance officers certifying the effectiveness of their programs lead to more job-hopping among CCOs? 

This person’s thinking was as follows. A company suffers a compliance failure. It then implements an ethics and compliance program, avoiding a guilty plea and a compliance monitor — but, as assistant attorney general Kenneth Polite has made clear, the CCO would then likely need to certify the effectiveness of that new program. 

Well, if the company then suffers a second compliance failure sometime in the future, that would probably mean you’re stuck with a monitor, a guilty plea, high monetary penalties, or some other unfortunate circumstance — and all eyes would turn to the CCO who had certified the effectiveness of that program. So, in my friend’s own words… 

Any thoughts from readers on how likely that scenario is? Seems rather plausible to me, and it’s yet another dynamic nobody wants, ladled onto a compliance job market that’s already pretty wacky.

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