By Diana LaMorie • January 28, 2018•Writers in Residence, Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Other Career Issues, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job
I suppose I should start with an introduction, though I suspect that by the end of this post it will read more like an Ode to Compliance. I consider myself one of the lucky ones who pretty much knew what they wanted to do with their career since a young age. Once I got over the ‘I want to be a librarian because I like books’ and ‘chef because I like food’ aspirations of second grade, I became drawn towards law because of the endless debates I’d undertake with friends and family. (As it turns out lawyers do debate endlessly, and it’s relentless for our loved ones.) I also became keen on finance because my father worked in banking. These two themes in my life set the stage for what would eventually become my career in Compliance.
I went to Fordham University and majored in Finance. I knew I wanted a deeper understanding of the field before going to law school, so I opted for an accelerated B.S./M.B.A. dual degree program which allowed me to take advanced business courses for one year in graduate school right after I finished my undergraduate degree. This background also helped boost my law school applications because it demonstrated my sincere interest in advancing my education by pursuing a concentration in business law. At Brooklyn Law School, I took courses such as Corporate Law and Securities Regulation. I interned for a Bankruptcy judge, the Department of Justice, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and finally a hedge fund in my third year.
Despite the fact that I was graduating during the Great Recession, I felt confident that I would find a job because financial regulation was growing at a breakneck speed thanks in large part to the passing of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (lovingly referred to as the “Keep Lawyers Employed Act”). Regardless of where they stood on the political spectrum, most people agreed that the status quo was unsustainable and that Wall Street needed some reigning in. While Compliance as a field had always existed, the passage of Dodd-Frank had finally given Compliance Officers their due – and that’s where I came in.
Big law firms have an allure to law students, but in-house has an allure to lawyers in practice. My goal has always been to bypass the travails of law firm life and go straight in-house. At the time of my graduation, freshly minted lawyers were not exactly met with open doors but some enterprising ones found their way in through the back door into the Compliance Department where a law degree was becoming increasingly preferred. Extra credit was given to those who had a financial background. Lots of people were needed to make sense of all these new regulations, and who better to complete that task than folks who just studied law for three years?
In Compliance, I have found the perfect cross-section of law and business. Compliance is at the opposite end of the spectrum of Litigation when problems have arisen that are incapable of being resolved without judicial intervention (until the inevitable settlement, that is). Your job in Compliance is to make sure that the firm you serve and its employees are playing by the rules. You must anticipate any potential issues and set up frameworks to prevent problems at the outset. You take an increasingly complex maze of regulations being imposed on businesses (in my case, hedge funds in particular) coming from myriad regulators and governing bodies and interpret how they impact your company and what you can do to demonstrate that you are following the law in a very practical way.
When people ask me if I’d ever considered returning to legal practice, I chuckle because I feel like I am completely entrenched in the law every day. On any given day I get to research the intent, guidance, and interpretation of various statutes. I then see how they fit into the current framework of the business I work for, and consider how our internal policy addresses the issue (and if there is none, draft one). I think of ways to communicate the policy clearly to non-lawyers and automate the administration thereof. This is all, of course, a gross oversimplification of what a Compliance Officer is charged with doing, and therein lies all the fun! Every day brings a new challenge or question from the business as to how to do something in a compliant manner. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for me, there’s never a dull moment and I love it.
Over the course of the next year, I hope to share more about my experiences in a ‘JD Preferred’ job in financial services, as well as those of women in other roles where a law degree is preferred but not required.