What Corporate Lawyers in Capital Markets/ Securities Do
Corporate law is generally broken up into one of two divisions; Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A)/ Private Equity (PE) and Capital Markets (CM). While both branches support the needs of corporations, those in M&A and PE focus on ensuring that the purchase, merger, or funding of a company goes through, while those in CM help corporations get funding necessary for growth through equity securities (such as stocks), debt securities (such as bonds), and other financial instruments. Lawyers just entering the field are often expected to work across all areas of corporate law to gain exposure, but most firms have attorneys move into one of the two divisions as they advance, and those who wind up on the capital markets side ultimately specialize in one of four groups; equity, debt, securitization, or derivatives.
Capital markets lawyers perform many tasks depending on the financial instrument in use, ranging from performing due diligence to drafting legal documents, filing documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), negotiating terms, and advising clients on legal/ regulatory matters. They may also work closely with their clients, the client’s accounting firm, and investment banks, in order to carry out their duties.
Who would enjoy a career in Corporate Law (Capital Markets)?
Those who are methodical and tend to view the career as a gateway to a comfortable lifestyle, rather than living for the excitement or societal contributions of a job, are happiest in the field. Compared to other branches of law, capital markets tends to be much more transactional, with a heavy focus on drafting documents and negotiation, so people who have a strong eye for detail, enjoy research, and have effective communication skills do well.
Who mightn't like the career?
Document preparation and review can require enormous amounts of time, with some transactions spanning more than 500 pages each. For this reason, capital markets is not a good choice for someone who isn’t prepared to work 60-80 hours per week, with a fair portion spent on documents. Corporate law can be one of the most difficult and challenging areas to work in, so resilience and a general interest in transactional law is critical to satisfaction in this role.
Admittance into an accredited university upon completion of entry exams is the first step in entering law. Quality institutions have rigorous requirements and competition for positions is fierce. A law degree is required in order to practice at any level above the rank of intern or summer associate in the US and Canada. In the UK and Australia, offerings such as the Graduate Diploma of Law (GDL) or the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP), respectively, are available, which allow people with virtually any undergraduate degree to move into law. Each jurisdiction has further requirements, including a bar exam and licensure process.
- Juris Doctor
- Master of Laws
- Doctor of Juridical Science
- Bachelor of Laws (also called a BL or LLB for the Latin Legum Baccalaureus)
- Graduate Diploma of Law (GDL)
- Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP)
Those who are aware they’d like to enter into a law career should plan early and apply for a summer associate or internship position while still in school, as the experience will help secure a long-term position after graduation.
- Harvard Law School’s “Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer”
- 10 tips for a strong legal internship interview
Moving into Corporate Law (Capital Markets) from another career
It can be difficult to transition into capital markets law, simply because one must pass legal exams and participate in additional coursework. At the same time, some big firms appreciate diversity and take pride in amassing a staff with unique non-legal backgrounds, as these individuals are better prepared to understand the needs of each sector that is being represented by the firm.
- Consulting (general business)
- University Professor (any subject, especially law)
- Corporate Law (particularly M&A)
- Government (diplomat, military, politician)
- Economics Consultant
Graduate / Associate
Role: Incoming lawyers are referred to as associates. Students who are interning may have the distinction of being called a “summer clerk” or “summer associate,” and those fresh from university will be called “first-year associates,” and so on. Lawyers typically hold the title of associate for somewhere between seven and ten years, depending on the firm. During this time, their job is to support the firm’s partners, generally by handling research and reviewing contracts. It’s worth noting that some firms have an “up or out” policy, meaning that if a lawyer is not on the tenure track and does not become a partner within the allotted time, they are asked to leave the firm.
Role: Generally speaking, the title of senior associate is offered to a lawyer around five years into practice, though each firm will have its own guidelines. During this phase, the senior associate is expected to behave as if he or she is a junior partner. Ownership of projects is expected and the individual should be an expert in the area he or she covers. Tasks of greater importance may be assigned to senior associates by the firm’s partners and senior associates will generally have junior associates they can delegate some of their work to. It’s while working as a senior associate that a lawyer demonstrates to the firm that he or she is an indispensable part of the firm and is already behaving as if a partner.
Role: Associates who have proven themselves and are managing some of their own clients as well as bringing in new clients are typically offered partnerships. The exception to this is firms that have “of counsel” positions, which is a promotion from associate for those not on the partner career track. When a lawyer is offered a partnership role, it’s generally an equity partnership in which the lawyer “buys in” to the practice and then earns a percentage of the profits. As part owner, he also gets a say in the firm’s business decisions. Some firms may offer non-equity partnerships and let their seasoned lawyers take a salary instead of being part owner.
Capital markets lawyers do not usually travel for work unless they’re representing a large firm and must meet with the executive team.
Entry Level: According to data from PayScale, those beginning their careers have salaries of approximately USD $95,258 in the United States, £39,530 in the United Kingdom, CAD$90,210 in Canada, and AU$71,860 in Australia.
Mid-Career: USD$121,077, £70,800, CAD$110,580, AU$113,943.
Experienced: USD$159,040, £74,340, CAD$121,250, AU$145,816.
Naturally, bonuses and profit sharing are a major part of a partner’s income. With additional payments, an experienced attorney can earn more than USD$307,000, £120,000, CAD$156,000, or AU$206,000.
Why Corporate Lawyers in Capital Markets/ Securities move on
People who stay in capital markets generally love the variety of work and intellectual stimulation, but the hours can be particularly grueling, which may cause some to switch careers. In these cases, another branch of law is the primary go-to, with finance, and business close behind. For further reading, see “M&A vs Capital Markets,” “10 Things To Know About Capital Markets And Corporate Governance Practice,” “Capital Markets,” “Big picture: the key facts about working in capital markets,” and “What does a capital markets lawyer do?”