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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

January 3, 2016

I am a public sector employment attorney with no opportunities to advance. I have an offer from a public company for a compliance role. The role is great and provides growth, but does not have a legal counsel title and reports through HR. Would taking this role be viewed as a step backwards?

Julie Q. Brush


Your current employment situation places you in a spot with two material career challenges. First, as a public sector employee, the number of opportunities to transition to a private sector role (law firm or in house) is more limited, which reduces your future employment options. Second, you have no opportunities to advance in your existing position with this employer.

This offer allows you to move in house and provides opportunity for career growth and advancement. While you did not mention it, I suspect that the compensation package offered is more attractive than your current one as well – as private sector organizations often pay more than public sector employers.

But despite these virtues, with no “legal counsel” title and a reporting structure through HR, does the opportunity compromise your marketability as a lawyer? Is it a step in the wrong direction?

Compliance is a high demand practice area in today’s corporate…and legal market. And where it is housed within a corporate entity varies. For some, it reports through Finance, for others…Legal and yet other companies prefer the compliance function to live in HR. So the corporate world – and in particular, legal hiring managers are socialized around the different reporting structures. In addition, the expertise does not require a law degree. So professionals who specialize in compliance are not always attorneys. Despite this, marketability is not diluted for attorneys who wish to pursue the practice area…even without an official “Counsel” title. Nor is it diluted if the role does not sit in Legal…as long as the duties and responsibilities align with a legal compliance role in another organization.

In today’s legal market, hiring managers seeking to fill compliance roles almost always require a JD and will hire attorneys regardless of their current title or placement within an organization if their experience is relevant and applicable. So if you are interested in compliance and this new role offers the opportunity to hone and develop relevant legal experience in a private sector setting, this move will not be a step backwards…but rather a big leap forward.

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