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Compliance Officers - To be Legal or not to be Legal?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 16/02/16

When you search for compliance jobs (or compliance related) job adverts on LinkedIn, you will get over 300 results. Needless to say, compliance is booming.The awareness of its importance continues to grow and companies worldwide are more than ever making compliance one of their top priorities.

In the past, compliance was almost always incorporated in the legal department, as it was viewed as a ‘legal concern’. Over the last few years, however, this view has gradually shifted as companies have come to the realization that compliance is more than just legal: it incorporates ethics, company values, cultural understanding and integrity. Therefore, compliance is becoming more and more separated from legal, with independent departments within companies and different reporting lines.

Together with this development comes the fact that a compliance officer these days does not necessarily need to be a qualified lawyer. On the contrary: often a non-legal background is considered or sometimes even specifically requested.

Besides the legal knowledge (for example on the FCPA or the UK Bribery Act), a compliance officer is expected to have an understanding of the market and the right people skills to be able to train, advise and raise awareness on compliance amongst the employees and the business.

Furthermore, regional experience, for example in the emerging markets or Eastern Europe, is valued as a key requirement for many positions. Familiarity with local culture, as well as possessing the necessary language skills, is often seen as the most important quality in a compliance officer joining local firms or organisations. Compliance officers must be personable and able to communicate decisions both effectively and considerately.

Laurence Simons has been a Legal & Compliance recruitment agency for over 25 years and has always worked exclusively with legal qualified professionals. However, with the shift in requirements in the compliance function over the last years, we are working on positions where a non-legal background is considered more often, which opens up an interesting new pool of candidates.

In 2015, a non-legal qualification was taken into consideration in over 50% of our compliance searches worldwide. Again this shows that positive personality traits, combined with a strong cultural and ethical understanding of regions and markets were often just as valued as educational background, if not more important.

It is an interesting development, which we will follow closely over the next years. Will compliance ever truly be separate from legal functions or will an underlying requirement for legal qualifications always remain attached to the compliance function? Only time will tell.

For a confidential discussion about your next career move, or for help advertising a new role, please contact Marlous Donders. Marlous is Senior Researcher with Laurence Simons, focused on legal & compliance positions in-house in Europe.