What does it mean to be an ethics and compliance professional?

Ethics and compliance professionals are indispensable stewards of corporate behavior. They foster a moral culture that brings out the best in others while safeguarding corporate assets from internal and external misfeasance and malfeasance. At this time in our history, a more worthwhile profession is hard to imagine.

What kind of personality types make for a great ethics and compliance professional?

Professionals who want to make a difference in the attitudes and behavior of corporate society tend to gravitate towards this profession. Having said that, the history of this profession informs us that ethics and compliance positions were often filled as a result of a lateral move within an already existing function. Many found themselves in the role by accident rather than by deliberate career choice. That prototypical path is changing. Today, people seek this profession not only because of the staggering number of available jobs, but also because of the increasing sophistication required for ethics and compliance officers to effectively perform their roles. As corporations navigate today’s regulatory and governance climate — and position themselves to meet those challenges yet to emerge — they will need to depend on professionals who not only follow the rules, but also think critically, motivate others, and respond to change without losing sight of business objectives or core organizational values.

What kinds of skill sets are required for an ethics and compliance professional to be successful?

The most important skill necessary for an effective ethics and compliance professional is the ability to persuade and influence. Implementing and maintaining an ethical and compliant workforce is not an easy task in every organization. It takes a skilled influencer to convince the masses that following the rules — even when it takes more time or costs more money — is the right thing to do in every instance. The soft skills of how to deal with conflict are essential. Depending upon the industry involved, attention to detail and thorough analysis of laws and regulations can also be invaluable.

The ability to manage projects and effectively communicate are critical skill sets as well. Many organizations are matrixed. Unlike a strictly hierarchical company structure, employees are managed through more than one reporting line. Having a matrixed management involves cross-functional, cross-business groups and other forms of interactions that span the traditional vertical business units. The ethics and compliance professional must ensure that all constituencies of a corporation are appropriately involved and approve of the direction of the ethics and compliance program. As you can imagine, this is no small task and requires an ability to effectively communicate throughout many levels of an organization.

How will a compliance degree benefit me?

Graduate degrees and professional certifications can add up to 10 percent to your base pay, according to the Robert Half 2014 Salary Guide. We've interviewed industry leaders who indicate that individuals who have invested their time and money in getting a graduate degree in ethics and compliance are very attractive candidates because they have already demonstrated their commitment to the profession. The educational experience and degree you receive through St. Thomas’ Organizational Ethics and Compliance Program sets you apart from others – whether you're attempting to gain entry into the field or move upward into a better position.

Is a law degree necessary to become an ethics and compliance professional?

There are many positions in the ethics and compliance field that are held by lawyers. However, getting a law degree is not essential to becoming an ethics and compliance professional. Having an undergraduate degree is. From there, the education you gain will almost certainly impact your ability to get a job. Employers are looking for applicants who are actively engaged in and devoted to the ethics and compliance profession. Getting an advanced degree provides solid proof of that commitment.

Isn’t it enough to get on-the-job training to become an ethics and compliance professional?

The regulatory landscape’s increasing complexity, along with the need for a deeper understanding of best practices for shaping corporate culture, challenge the expectation that compliance officers can learn what they need to know solely through on-the-job training. Employers have stated time and again that the pool of qualified candidates falls short of demand.

What types of jobs can I get with an LL.M. or M.S.L. in Ethics and Compliance?

Job titles within the ethics and compliance field range from entry-level compliance analysts, assistants or specialists, to chief compliance and/or ethics officers, which are typically vice president positions. Job descriptions will differ depending upon the industry and the individual company within the industry. Some positions deal with only the technical aspects of a company’s compliance requirements (i.e., Medicare/Medicaid compliance regulations) while other roles will more broadly encompass a range of ethics and compliance related responsibilities ensuring compliance with the seven elements of the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines. While there is no one model or job description for an ethics and compliance professional, an emphasis on corporate oversight and corporate conscience in order to deter illegal and unethical conduct in an organization is essential.

What are the typical salaries of ethics and compliance professionals?

According to the 2015 Compliance & Ethics Officer Salary Survey conducted by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, salaries are determined by factors including job title, number of employees managed, industry, company size and geographic region.

The survey data revealed that Chief Compliance Officers at the largest companies (more than $3 billion in annual revenues) earn an average of $272,002 while those at small organizations with revenues of less than $5 million earned $145,400. Salaries averaged $191,367 at the Director level, $125,970 at the Manager level and $81,956 for the Assistant/Specialist level of the largest companies (again, more than $3 billion in annual revenues), to $108,530 for the Director level, $95,994 for Manager level and $67,266 for those at companies with revenues of less than $5 million.

“The data reveals the growing importance and reach of compliance and ethics officers,” said SCCE CEO Roy Snell. “Compensation reflects the fact that this profession is growing, and the data showed that a sizable number now manage compliance globally.”

How long will it take to complete the compliance program?

Both the on-campus M.S.L. and LL.M. programs are available full time or part time. If you attend full time, you can complete either program in one year or two semesters. If you attend part time, you can complete either program in two years. If you need to take longer to complete a degree, you may petition the associate dean. 

The online LL.M. program is a 17-month program operating in a cohort model and running four consecutive semesters, beginning in January.

For the J.D./LL.M. dual degree program, the program can be completed in six, seven or eight semesters. View Dual Degree Sample Schedules.

What are my options as a J.D. student at St. Thomas?

As a J.D. student, you have three options: you may elect to take compliance courses as electives; add a concentration in Organizational Ethics and Compliance to your J.D.; or pursue an LL.M. in Organizational Ethics & Compliance.

The Organizational Ethics & Compliance program was designed to help our J.D. students as well. The courses in this program are open to you as J.D. elective credits if you decide they would be interesting and useful.

If you want some more depth and a note on your transcript, the compliance concentration might be for you. You would take 12 or more credit hours of compliance courses, including 3 required courses and 1 or more elective courses. The concentration would be noted on your transcript and you could tell future employers of your concentration in law school toward this skill set.

If you want more compliance experience and coursework still, the LL.M. program is the best fit. The LL.M. is an additional degree program, to be completed after your J.D. The LL.M. requires 24 credit hours, including 3 required courses (9 hours) and 15 hours of electives. But you can take advantage of the dual degree option and take as few as 12 additional credit hours after you complete your J.D. if you plan your coursework with the LL.M. in mind. An LL.M. degree prepares you for more advanced positions in the compliance field.

The compliance master’s program is not an option. That degree program is designed for non-J.D. candidates.

Are scholarships or employer match funds available?

Yes. We offer a tuition match for the assistance you receive from your employer. Applicants to the M.S.L. in Organizational Ethics and Compliance Program who do not qualify for the education tuition benefit from an employer can ask to be considered for the Dean’s Compliance Scholarship. For more information, visit the Tuition and Scholarships page. 

If you are a student in the dual degree program (including alumni), the ability to take fewer credit hours total can substantially reduce the cost of the program, in addition to reducing the number of courses required to complete the LL.M. 

Click here for information on financial aid.

When will classes be held?

The required courses and some elective courses are offered in the late afternoon and evening between 4-8:30 p.m. two days a week. Other elective courses are offered throughout the day and on other evenings, and these times and days vary each semester. A course listing for the M.S.L can be found here. The LL.M. curriculum is here.

Can the courses be taken online or remotely?

Our LL.M. program can be taken entirely online. This is a 17-month program operating in a cohort model and running four consecutive semesters, with the first class beginning in January 2018 and ending in May 2019. Each cohort will be limited to 25 students. Our M.S.L. program currently is not offered online. 

What are the classes like?

The classes range in size from five students to 30 students. Classes may consist of all J.D./LL.M. students, all M.S.L. students, or a mix of J.D., M.S.L. and M.B.A. students. Depending upon electives chosen, it is also possible that Organizational Ethics & Compliance students may find themselves in classes with engineering students.

Who teaches the classes?

Key courses are taught by experienced faculty at the School of Law and the Opus College of Business. The university also employs adjuncts who are working professionals in the ethics and compliance field. Additional St. Thomas expertise includes three college centers devoted to business ethics: the Center for Ethics Business Cultures and the Veritas Institute, both at the Opus College of Business, and the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, at the School of Law.

What industries are hiring right now?

As reflected by the 2016 U.S. News and World Report ranking of #17 in Business Jobs, compliance is a growing and desirable field spanning multiple industries. The financial and health care fields are frequently in hiring mode in order to effectively manage numerous federal, state and local regulations. Other industries routinely hiring compliance and ethics professionals include oil and gas, retail, telecommunications, manufacturing and university athletic departments.

How can I find a job in compliance and ethics?

 We at St. Thomas are committed to your career development. Additionally, the following associations provide job listings specifically geared to the ethics and compliance profession: