Kim Yapchai, chief compliance officer at Whirlpool Corp.
Kim Yapchai, chief compliance officer at Whirlpool Corp. (Courtesy photo)

Year after year, chief legal officers and general counsel identify ethics and compliance as a top legal challenge for in-house counsel, according to reports from the Association of Corporate Counsel. And The Wall Street Journal pointed out in 2014 that fines and penalties have led to a “compliance hiring spree” at companies.

With compliance top of mind for executives, in-house lawyers should consider it as an alternative career path, said Kim Yapchai, chief compliance officer at Whirlpool Corp. who has previously worked as an attorney at Masco Corp. and Ford Motor Credit Co.

“I think that not all lawyers realize that there’s probably more demand for compliance people right now than there are people to fill the positions,” she said.

“When I went to law school, [compliance as a profession] really wasn’t discussed … people didn’t see it as a career,” Yapchai said. “If you just compare within the last 20 years, how it’s changed, it’s gone from nothing to a C-suite role and I think it’s not finished maturing.”

For the in-house lawyer aspiring to be in the general counsel seat, Yapchai said heading compliance is analogous in a number of ways. “The chief compliance role is very similar to the general counsel role in that you have the breadth of the company to consider in terms of legal issues and developing processes and communications,” she said.

And just like anyone in a C-suite role, a compliance professional is ultimately responsible for situations they may not have complete authority over, according to Yapchai. “That’s what’s hard about being in an executive role. You’re no longer in control within your office of everything that happens in the company throughout the world,” she said. “I would expect every CEO feels that risk.”

When Yapchai stepped in as Whirlpool’s top compliance officer roughly two years ago, the appliance maker had a foundation built on a values-based culture, Yapchai said, so her role was focused on growing an already-existing program.

The latest example of this is the Whirlpool SpeakEasy, which complements the company’s traditional compliance programs while at the same time aiming to build excitement around training, Yapchai said. Unlike traditional speakeasies that were filled with hushed voices and illegal activity, Whirlpool’s SpeakEasy encourages employees to speak up about wrongdoing, using compliance training stations that teach employees about various laws and regulations.

“Companies for years have had policies and procedures and you can paper things from here to the moon and back, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your [compliance] program is sufficient,” Yapchai said. “Just as important in your program is that people feel comfortable to let you know if they have questions so that they can hopefully avoid a violation or get clarification.”

The SpeakEasy is still fairly new and has only been done three times since it was created last year, but according to Yapchai “it’s become quite popular already.” “We’re getting requests for it versus us trying to find a place to do it,” she noted.

Year after year, chief legal officers and general counsel identify ethics and compliance as a top legal challenge for in-house counsel, according to reports from the Association of Corporate Counsel. And The Wall Street Journal pointed out in 2014 that fines and penalties have led to a “compliance hiring spree” at companies.

With compliance top of mind for executives, in-house lawyers should consider it as an alternative career path, said Kim Yapchai, chief compliance officer at Whirlpool Corp. who has previously worked as an attorney at Masco Corp. and Ford Motor Credit Co.

“I think that not all lawyers realize that there’s probably more demand for compliance people right now than there are people to fill the positions,” she said.

“When I went to law school, [compliance as a profession] really wasn’t discussed … people didn’t see it as a career,” Yapchai said. “If you just compare within the last 20 years, how it’s changed, it’s gone from nothing to a C-suite role and I think it’s not finished maturing.”

For the in-house lawyer aspiring to be in the general counsel seat, Yapchai said heading compliance is analogous in a number of ways. “The chief compliance role is very similar to the general counsel role in that you have the breadth of the company to consider in terms of legal issues and developing processes and communications,” she said.

And just like anyone in a C-suite role, a compliance professional is ultimately responsible for situations they may not have complete authority over, according to Yapchai. “That’s what’s hard about being in an executive role. You’re no longer in control within your office of everything that happens in the company throughout the world,” she said. “I would expect every CEO feels that risk.”

When Yapchai stepped in as Whirlpool’s top compliance officer roughly two years ago, the appliance maker had a foundation built on a values-based culture, Yapchai said, so her role was focused on growing an already-existing program.

The latest example of this is the Whirlpool SpeakEasy, which complements the company’s traditional compliance programs while at the same time aiming to build excitement around training, Yapchai said. Unlike traditional speakeasies that were filled with hushed voices and illegal activity, Whirlpool’s SpeakEasy encourages employees to speak up about wrongdoing, using compliance training stations that teach employees about various laws and regulations.

“Companies for years have had policies and procedures and you can paper things from here to the moon and back, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your [compliance] program is sufficient,” Yapchai said. “Just as important in your program is that people feel comfortable to let you know if they have questions so that they can hopefully avoid a violation or get clarification.”

The SpeakEasy is still fairly new and has only been done three times since it was created last year, but according to Yapchai “it’s become quite popular already.” “We’re getting requests for it versus us trying to find a place to do it,” she noted.