When Sylvia Pérez ’14 enrolled at NYLS, she had never heard of the field she now works in—compliance.
Before law school, Pérez earned a master’s degree in Women’s Studies and Public Administration from the State University of New York at Albany and held positions at the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the New York State Department of Labor. As a law student, she gravitated toward public interest work.
Pérez first interned at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, but the experience quickly confirmed that criminal prosecution wasn’t right for her. She began to broaden her focus, taking an internship during her 2L summer with Metro-North Rail Road and another during her 3L year at the luxury clothing company Louis Vuitton North America. She also enrolled in NYLS’s Administrative Enforcement Clinic, where she worked with the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission to prosecute taxi medallion owners, drivers, and others who violated the city’s rules and laws governing taxis. The experience led to a role as a prosecuting attorney at TLC immediately after law school.
Pérez liked the enforcement aspects of her TLC job, but she didn’t feel fully settled. She had heard about financial services compliance during her 3L year, but since she didn’t have business or financial training prior to law school, she hadn’t pursued it closely. Now, her interest was renewed.
“I was intrigued by how businesses have responded to regulatory pressure, and I was working for a regulator that created and enforced rules,” she says. “I wanted to leverage the transferable skills I had developed at TLC while learning more about the financial services compliance industry.”
During her year at TLC, Pérez studied financial regulatory requirements and scheduled networking coffees with NYLS alumni working in the field. She asked Assistant Dean for Academic Planning and Career Development Courtney Fitzgibbons for advice and at her urging took free online courses offered by FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority).
“Exploring this field felt like putting a puzzle together since I did not have the background,” she says. “I took what I learned from other NYLS alumni, compliance professionals I met, my financial services regulatory research, and online courses to help me learn and become conversational on the topic.”
Pérez realized that her courtroom experience working for TLC, where she had appeared before judges daily on behalf of the agency, gave her an edge.
“Depending on your role in compliance, you may need to present frequently to stakeholders, senior management, and other interested parties,” she says. “By having courtroom experience, you’ve developed and honed the best preparation, presentation, and communication skills.”
After serving as a manager in Morgan Stanley’s Legal and Compliance Division, Pérez landed her current role as a Senior Compliance Officer at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Her responsibilities include developing, implementing, and executing risk-based compliance testing to evaluate the effectiveness of internal controls, policies, and procedures.
Pérez is also Chair of the NYLS Alumni Association’s Compliance Group. The group’s activities, which range from career panels to networking events, help students break into the industry and give alumni opportunities to connect.
“A J.D. definitely helps you land a position in compliance,” Pérez says. “The skills you learn in law school set you up for success in this industry.”
She also recommends that law students interested in the field explore related careers in anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, and sanctions.
“With a law degree, you have the right investigative skills to succeed in those roles,” she says.