Can Compliance be independent of Legal?

31 Aug 11:00 by Anu Malhotra


Compliance is one of the most business-critical functions right now, especially since the implementation of GDPR. We, at Laurence Simons, have made multiple placements since the start of the year in compliance across different markets and continue to stay busy within this function.

While working on these roles, I spoke to many experienced compliance professionals coming from different backgrounds, not just legal. It made me think should compliance sit independently as a function, or should it exist as a part of legal function?

In 2016, according to the Laurence Simons’ Legal Salary Survey and Market Report 2017, 65% of hiring managers would prefer their compliance specialists to have a legal background, and in the past, compliance was almost always incorporated into the legal department, as it was viewed as a ‘legal concern’. However, this view has gradually shifted as companies have come to the realisation that compliance is more than just legal: it incorporates ethics, company values, cultural understanding and integrity. Compliance is so much more than just meeting legal requirements.

The survey also found 34% of companies had a stand-alone compliance function in 2016, up 1% from 2013, which suggests compliance is starting to separate from legal, with independent departments within companies and different reporting lines. Deciding on whether you want to hire a CCO from a legal background or not should depend on your business: are you already in a heavily regulated company/sector? Is this your first foray into compliance? Knowing the answers to these questions will be the first step in addressing whether compliance should be separate or paired with the legal function for your team.

The trend now seems to be that for large multinational companies, the compliance function works independently – although it may have initially started, or been headed up, by lawyers. On the other hand, smaller companies tend to combine the two functions for ease and practicality.

If you are attempting to reach for a compliance position without a legal background, then employers are going to be looking for soft skills. Softer skills include the ability to challenge, build relationships, interpret regulation (or complex documentation) and a wider understanding and interest in industry developments – these will aid your application if you are able to demonstrate these skills through examples. If you are a lawyer already working in compliance and want to move to a “pure compliance” role, then you will be asked to showcase your passion for compliance.

Ultimately, the choice of separating the functions comes down to the individual case and what works best for that company, but it is still important that this debate continues into the future in order to create compliant companies that best benefit the people they serve.

If you would like to discuss finding your ideal role, email me at anu.malhotra@laurencesimons.com to find out more.