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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Many factors impact the salary paid to an ethics and compliance professional according to the 2017 salary survey conducted by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics. The title you hold, how many employees you manage, your industry, the annual revenues of your organization, the geographic region in which you are located -- these are just some examples of the variables on salary. However, some averages do emerge which prove this to be a profitable occupation to seek.

The survey data revealed that chief compliance officers at the largest companies (more than $3 billion in annual revenues) earned an average of $275,722, while those at small organizations (less than $5 million in annual revenues) earned $121,653. With respect to positions of director, manager, specialist or assistant, salaries ranged from $183,836 for the director level, $126,615 for manager level and $81,294 for the assistant/specialist level at the largest companies (again, more than $3 billion in annual revenues), to $116,455 for the director level, $98,989 for manager level and $69,290 for the assistant/specialist level at small companies (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.”

Both the on-campus MSL 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. 

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.

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.

Yes. We offer a Dean’s Compliance Scholarship for students in our LLM and MSL programs. For more information, visit a program description 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. 

Information on financial aid.

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. 

The M.S.L. degree is offered entirely online. It is also offered on campus, along with the LL.M. degree.

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.

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 in Practice 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.

The need for qualified compliance professionals in virtually all industries makes this a very desirable career path. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranked compliance officer #16 in its list of Best Business Jobs for 2020 (up from #22 in 2019).

The financial and healthcare industries are frequently in hiring mode due to the amount of federal, state and local regulations of which they must constantly be mindful. Other industries that frequently hire compliance and ethics professionals include oil and gas, retail, telecommunications and manufacturing.

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:

Yes, if you start your LL.M. course work within 39 months of graduation. That means if you start your LL.M. in September after you graduated three years ago in May, you can receive up to 12 credits from your J.D. that count toward your LL.M. These 12 credits must have been in compliance- and/or ethics-related disciplines; if some of your courses do not qualify under this review, the credits you will have to take to earn your LL.M. may be more than 12. You are always welcome to return to get your LL.M. in organizational ethics and compliance as an alumnus/a, but if it has been longer than 39 months since your J.D. graduation, you will have to take the full 24 credits.