What Corporate Lawyers Do
Unlike some branches of law in which there’s an “us versus them” mentality, people who practice corporate law tend to be team players with strong negotiation skills. As a corporate attorney involved in mergers & acquisitions (M&A) or private equity law, the main focus is on ensuring that the financing, sale, or merger of a company goes smoothly without and legal issues to complicate matters or void contracts later.
In some cases, this simply involves proofing or drafting contracts, while other times it may involve providing legal advice or negotiating to ensure that the organization retaining one's’ services gets what it needs out of a deal.
Who would enjoy a career in Corporate Law (Mergers & Acquisitions)?
People who have a strong eye for detail and enjoy research do well in a corporate law environment. 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.
Who mightn't like the career?
The investment to get into corporate law is great, considering the time and money involved in schooling. For this reason, people who aren’t familiar with the true lifestyle of a corporate lawyer, which involves great amounts of paperwork and often very long and arduous hours, may later feel stuck in a career they don’t enjoy in order to pay off student loans. Given the demanding nature of the clients, 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 corporate 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.
Those who are aware they’d like to enter into a corporate 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 (Mergers & Acquisitions) from another career
It can be difficult to transition into corporate 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.
Those who have worked on the client-side in deals, particularly in investment banking, are able to make the switch with a law degree, although most wouldn’t fathom this move given the finance-side of the deal is generally the same amount of hours but considerably less compensation.
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.
Law firms that cater to corporations tend to be established in major business hubs around the world, such as New York or London. Due to the close proximity of the office to the clients, very little travel is required. Because credentials do not readily transfer, it’s generally best to become licensed in the area one intends to practice law in to begin with.
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 move on
The burnout rate for corporate law associates is fairly high, simply because of the pressure, hours, and no guarantee of a partnership. Luckily, there are many things a corporate lawyer can do when leaving a big law job, which include transitioning in-house into a legal role, moving into another specialty of law or completely changing careers all together.