Corporate law, sometimes also referred to as company law, is an area of law that relates primarily to business. Corporate lawyers provide as service of advice to businesses from a legal (and increasingly, often a generally commercial) perspective.
It’s important to note that, while corporate law is often described as a distinct field of law the need for consideration of corporate issues can remain crucial across a variety of other practice areas. In a large City firm in particular, sometimes referred to simply as ‘corporate’ law firms, an understanding of corporate matters remains relevant throughout seats such as Intellectual Property, transferring across intangible assets during a takeover, for example. Whereas for a high street solicitor dealing in personal matters such as children’s rights or divorce, for example, these issues will be less relevant.
The kind of work involved in corporate law is incredibly varied. The most headline-grabbing aspect of corporate law is usually mergers & acquisitions work (M&A) – sometimes described as the ‘bread and butter’ of larger law firms. Here, lawyers guide their clients through the legal steps involved in acquiring (or merging with) another company. Stocks and shares are also incredibly important to corporate lawyers, who may be issuing shares in publicly traded companies, or listing companies on the stock exchange for the first time. Funds, capital markets, and private equity are all keywords you’ll hear thrown around in this space too – large financial decisions require expert lawyers to carefully negotiate and advise upon.
Much of the work that corporate lawyers undertake is seen as non-contentious or ‘transactional’ – advisory work for a client looking to list on a stock exchange, for example, or guiding another client through a non-hostile takeover in an M&A deal.
However, it is important to note that, as is often forgotten, some corporate law-related work is actually quite contentious, and many corporate issues may even involve litigation. For example, issues such as breach of contract or disputes over financial management are certainly corporate issues, and will require the corporate practice area to get involved . It can overlap significantly with areas such as employment law or antitrust law too (see our coverage of the recent proposed M&A deal between Microsoft and Activision-Blizzard, which has been challenged in court over concerns of a monopoly). Thus, corporate lawyers have a great deal of variety in the work coming their way.
This is one of the most common questions for students interested in pursuing company law. While these two sectors are closely related, there is a clear difference between the two.
Commercial law concerns itself with the wider business industry and is more general in terms of its scope of work. It looks at legal relations between different business entities and areas like franchising and intellectual property.
On the other hand, company law is more focused on the specific business itself, working on the incorporation of businesses and their mergers and acquisitions, for example.
The types of law firms that you’d want to consider if looking at a career in corporate law tend to be larger firms – as already stated, smaller, local firms tend to specialise more in personal matters. Larger regional or City firms, on the other hand, derive a huge portion of their revenues from corporate work, and therefore offer great opportunities for a development in this area. Magic Circle law firms in the UK are well-known for their corporate teams, and, more recently, elite US firms (think Kirkland & Ellis or Latham & Watkins) moving into cities like London are increasingly drawing even more corporate work, too. These types of firms often come with challenging work-life balance (high levels of intensity and long working hours) – but equally high pay packets.
Corporate law is one of the most, if not the most, lucrative areas of the law for aspiring lawyers to work towards entering. Corporate salaries are largely driven by the strength of the markets, but there are always large corporations willing to pay high rates for corporate advice – which is subsequently reflected in lawyer salaries. The average corporate lawyer in the UK earns over £70,000, which is almost £20,000 over the average solicitor salary, and £40,000 above the average national salary. Salaries can be much higher depending on firm and position, however. At a large City firm, like those of the Magic Circle , a corporate lawyer may be on a six-figure salary.Partners in this practice area often command the highest salaries at the top level of the industry where there is usually a larger disparity between practice area salaries the higher up the career ladder you go. Corporate law is therefore not only lucrative, but also offers excellent career progression too.
Corporate lawyers may also choose to earn their wages in-house. They are certainly in demand in these spaces – large banks, for example, can maintain a legal team (mostly consisting of lawyers with a corporate speciality) in the hundreds. Salaries are equally very strong in these areas, while the work-life balance is arguably more favourable in-house.
If you’re interested in becoming a corporate lawyer yourself, having now gathered an idea of what the practice area looks like, here are some of our top tips.
If you’re studying for a qualifying law degree (for example the LLB), then you’ll already have seven compulsory modules to complete (including relevant topics, such as contract law). However, you can pick particularly corporate modules within your optional selection (for example company law). This will also be something to consider during law school (for example your PGDL or SQE), although your firm may dictate which optional modules you take to some degree.
If you’re not yet pursuing legal education (perhaps mid-way through a non-law degree, or still in sixth form), you can learn more about the fundamentals of corporate law by doing some extracurricular readings. At this stage, you probably won’t want to dive straight into dense theoretical textbooks, and instead would benefit from introductory readings of a broader, and less specialised, nature. Books like ‘The Corporate Contract in Changing Times’ offer a great overview of corporate law as an industry, as well as the direction in which it is heading.
As already stated, corporate lawyers need a keen sense of commercial awareness, which will most likely be tested during interviews . To develop your commercial awareness, the most important thing to do is to regularly keep up to date with business and finance related news. The Financial Times and The Economist are the two most popular choices for such news (your institution may have access, so be sure to check). If you don’t understand some of the terminology used yet, don’t worry – just be proactive in looking these terms up online. A widely recommended and excellent resource for explaining many of the terms and concepts you’re likely to encounter within such news articles is Investopedia. Chris Stoakes (a former City lawyer himself) also has a useful, very popular book on this subject titled ‘All You Need To Know About The City’.
The best way to start your career in corporate law is undoubtedly to gain some hands-on experience. Search for opportunities across the industry. Applying to vacation schemes at firms with a corporate specialism are probably the most useful and most popular way to gain this experience. During such a scheme, you’re likely to have a choice of which seat you sit in for the period of your work experience (usually 1-4 weeks), so choosing a corporate seat here is useful. Some larger firms will require you to take a minimum number of corporate seats as a trainee if you secure a training contract. However, vacation schemes are not the only way to gain corporate work experience.
You may also wish to consider looking at in-house opportunities – legal internships within larger corporations will often have a corporate edge to the work involved. These are great opportunities to develop your skills and knowledge in an alternative way – it looks great on a CV to see that you’ve got in-house experience too.
Here are three recommended corporate law books to help budding corporate lawyers familiarise themselves with the sector and learn more about the work involved:
|Company Law||Brenda Hannigan||£39|
|The Anatomy of Corporate Law: A Comparative and Functional Approach||Reiner Kraakman et al||£27|
|Sealy and Worthington’s Text, Cases, and Materials in Company Law||Sarah Worthington||£40|
In short, corporate law is a highly lucrative , intense, varied area of the law which is embedded in a wide range of practice areas. You’ll need to develop excellent commercial knowledge and think as if you work in both finance and law (whilst still maintaining detailed legal knowledge). Gaining experience at a firm with such a specialism (or in-house), and deciding whether the practice area suits your own personality and skillsets, are great ways to begin your career in corporate law.
Loading More Content