Careers in Compliance

The Wells Fargo and Volkswagen scandals have once again highlighted the importance of an ethical corporate culture and an effective compliance program. Compliance and ethics departments focused on detecting and preventing legal violations have significantly expanded over the last 20 years, creating opportunities for students, attorneys and other professionals.

This growth has resulted from a number of key developments. The Caremark decision in 1996 emphasized the role of Board members in overseeing compliance programs, while the U.S. Sentencing Commission reinforced the importance of effective compliance programs in sentencing decisions. Multi-billion dollar prosecutions in the pharmaceutical and financial services industries have resulted in rigorous compliance programs and put CEOs and Boards on notice that compliance is a front and center issue.

With the change to a Trump Administration, there is speculation about the impact on long standing enforcement priorities. Although time will tell, many of the most significant enforcement actions under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act are related to Siemens, a Germany company, Alstom, a French company and BAE, a British company. In this light, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act may be viewed as a means to level the playing field for U.S. businesses operating abroad. In the healthcare arena, financial recoveries from fraud and abuse enforcement actions will likely continue to be critical to the government’s efforts to control healthcare costs.

These long term trends have placed a premium on hiring talented compliance professionals. In a January 2014 article (“Compliance Officer: Dream Career”), the Wall Street Journal reported that HSBC added 1600 compliance employees in 2013 while the Financial Times declared in 2014 that “the age of the compliance officer” had arrived. Like lawyers, compliance officers need to understand the laws and risks related to their organizations. They also need to have a deep understanding of their organization’s operations and be able to design controls to detect and prevent legal violations. Communicating the importance of compliance to diverse audiences—Board members, executive management and employees—is essential.

Many lawyers are now shifting into compliance roles and the white collar bar is increasingly required to understand compliance as part of their daily work. Christopher Kim, Senior Investigator on Global Corruption and Fraud at the World Bank and Charlene Davis, Head of North American Healthcare Compliance for Sun Pharmaceuticals, are two examples of Temple Law graduates in compliance leadership roles. Alan Cohen, a member of Temple’s Board of Trustees, served as the Head of Global Compliance for Goldman Sachs for the past 13 years.

In 2015, Temple Law launched the Center for Compliance and Ethics with a mission to enable students to understand and prepare for compliance careers and to assist lawyers and professionals to further their careers in compliance. The Center also serves as a forum for public-private sector dialogues on compliance issues. With my appointment as the first Center Director, the Law School is expanding its focus in this growing area.  The Center’s Advisory Board includes numerous compliance leaders from companies, law firms, accounting firms and the public sector.

Students may now take courses as part of an overall compliance curriculum that includes an introduction to compliance, international compliance, healthcare fraud and abuse, environmental compliance, drug and device law, corruption and investigations. Students also may work on compliance at organizations such as Aramark, Berkley Research Group, Ernst & Young, Moody’s, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, Sun Pharmaceuticals, TRUSTe and Unilife. Upcoming Center events include a roundtable with a former Assistant Chief of the Department of Justice’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Unit, an international compliance conference and a Law Review symposium on the 20th Anniversary of the Caremark decision.

To learn more visit the Center’s website.


Jon Smollen was recently appointed as the Director of Temple Law’s Center for Compliance and Ethics. Prior to this appointment, Jon served as Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer for Endo International, a global pharmaceutical company. He has also worked as an Attorney Advisor to Federal Trade Commissioner Thomas B. Leary and played a significant role in the Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement of privacy laws and development of e-commerce privacy regulations