Careers in business and finance law
Business and finance is a diverse legal field with a rich history. It is constantly changing in reaction to world events and unprecedented legal cases. Many types of practice fall into this category, including accounting, corporate, and tax law. Careers in this sector can be rewarding and well compensated.
Business law – past and present
Business law has evolved in response to new situations that have revealed a need for further legal protection. One such advancement was the introduction of legal personality, which meant that corporations were now treated as people, with all of the related rights and duties that come with it.
Another big development was the introduction of limited liability. This ensured that the losses of stakeholders could no longer exceed their investment, meaning their personal assets remained safe, even if the company they invested in went bankrupt.
Over the years, business law has grown into a complex area with various strands. Today, it encompasses multiple areas of the legal field, from the personhood of corporations to the legalities of operating a sole proprietorship.
Why choose a career in business and finance law?
The benefits of a career in this sector include competitive salary, prestige, and the rewarding nature of the work. Depending on the company, your role can also have social impact. You may have the opportunity to improve the business relationships and lives of others.
The first step toward a career in business and finance law is a bachelor’s degree. This needn’t be in a particular field, but it can be helpful to choose a relevant course of study. For example, you could get a bachelor’s in paralegal studies, or in business or finance. Signing up for elective courses in these areas may also be useful. A bachelor’s in pre-law is an option, although not a requirement.
The second required qualification is a juris doctor degree (J.D.). This postgraduate degree is tailored toward the legal profession. It is mandatory for working as an attorney in most states. The J.D. covers everything from specific legal issues to more general information about working as an attorney. It also includes the material needed to prepare for the bar exam.
It is crucial to attend an accredited university or your degree may not qualify you to sit for the bar exam. Be sure to check the accreditation status of any school you apply to.
Careers in corporate and business law
A career in corporate and business law can be very rewarding, and not just financially. There are a number of different roles to choose from, and the possibilities to move sideways as well as upwards ensure you’re unlikely to get bored.
Unlike a small business attorney, a corporate lawyer frequently has to deal with a broad range of issues because of the large size of many corporations. You might find yourself working in a law firm, or for a specific corporation. Many large companies have an in-house lawyer because there is a frequent need for legal advice from someone they can trust.
The average salary for a corporate lawyer is $111,444.
Traits of a successful corporate or business lawyer
- Analytical thinking – the ability to examine information and use logic to effectively address client problems
- Integrity – honesty and a desire to be ethical are important traits for a legal sector career
- Attention to detail – it is crucial to be meticulous in your work as errors can have huge consequences for clients
- Tolerance for stress – being capable of effectively handling demanding and high-pressure situations is essential
A typical day in the life of a corporate lawyer
The day usually starts early, with most at work by 8 or 9 am. Some days end at 5 pm, but lawyers may work into the night when there is a serious legal problem to solve. There doesn’t tend to be much downtime. The tasks vary, but on a typical day a corporate lawyer might:
- advise clients on their business transactions, the liability they have for a claim, whether they should try to prosecute or defend themselves in a lawsuit, and their legal rights and obligations
- use their knowledge of legal precedents to predict outcomes of cases
- prepare, draft, and review legal documents, such as mortgages, leases, patent applications, and contracts
- represent clients at government agencies or in court
- interpret laws, regulations, and rulings for businesses and individuals
How to become a corporate lawyer
A bachelor’s degree is a requirement. So is a juris doctor (J.D.), a postgraduate qualification that provides a general understanding of all areas of law. You may also want to consider a master of laws (LLM), although this is not a requirement.
What kind of cases might a corporate lawyer handle?
An example of a significant case involved AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph Company). The supreme court sided with the firm, making it more difficult for consumers to proceed with class-action lawsuits. As a consequence, AT&T were told to insert a line into their contracts indicating that consumers are limited to individual arbitration.
Tax attorneys focus on taxation and finance. They may work with corporations, individuals, or small businesses, helping them to get the legal support and information they need. It is not only law firms that hire tax attorneys. Some wealthy individuals have tax attorneys for their businesses. Other small and medium-sized businesses have them on retainer, as well.
There are many fields of tax law, including corporate tax, U.S. international tax, partnership tax, and tax-exempt organizations. A tax attorney may focus on 1 or 2 of these areas, or handle more general aspects of tax law.
The average salary of a tax attorney is $101,204.
A typical day in the life of a tax attorney
This job can be high pressure and high stress. You may need to work past 5pm to prepare a legal brief, a court case, or other document for the next day.
During a regular day, a tax attorney might:
- advise clients on their financial and tax transactions, liability for non-payment of taxes, whether they should defend or pay a tax-based claim, and their legal rights and obligations
- use their knowledge of legal precedents to analyze all probable outcomes of tax cases that affect the business
- prepare, draft, and review tax documents, such as IRS forms, and state and local tax forms
- represent clients at government agencies such as the IRS, and in court cases involving tax issues
- interpret tax laws, regulations, and rulings (as well as any changes in those areas) for both businesses and individuals
How to become a tax attorney
A bachelor’s degree and a J.D. are required. Additional training and specific courses can also be helpful. For example, you might select tax-based courses as electives during your bachelor’s degree.
You can also consider working with a taxing entity such as a local government. A clerkship can provide a good introduction to tax-based legal issues.
What kind of cases might a tax attorney handle?
Over the years, there have been numerous significant cases in the field of tax law. One high-profile example involved Al Capone, who was convicted of tax evasion in the 1920s. A notorious gangster, this was the only crime he was ever charged for. Failing to pay his taxes led to 11 years in prison including a period at Alcatraz.
Intellectual property lawyer (IP)
From Nike’s distinctive swoosh to the recipe for Coca-Cola, intellectual property is everywhere. It is the job of an IP lawyer to defend it against misuse.
The concept of intellectual property has been around for centuries. In fact, the earliest record of IP comes from the 6th century BCE. The first patent that offered legal protection was granted to an Italian inventor in 1421.
Today, much intellectual property relates to the internet where people often assume they can use anything they find for their own purposes. This is one of the reasons that good IP lawyers remain so sought after.
The average salary of an IP lawyer is $129,591.
A typical day in the life of an IP lawyer
IP lawyers may spend a large proportion of their day on the internet. They tend to have many alerts set up to notify them of trademarks and other IP information.
During a regular day, an IP attorney might:
- advise clients on how to protect their intellectual property
- address any misuse of property through cease and desist letters, and other means
- analyze all probable outcomes of cases affecting the client’s intellectual property
- prepare, draft, and review documents, such as DMCA notices
How to become an IP lawyer
A bachelor’s degree and a J.D. is a requirement. Courses or specializations in areas such as internet use, abuse, and marketing can also be helpful.
What kind of cases might an IP lawyer handle?
One of the most famous IP cases involved the entertainment giant Warner Brothers. Mike Tyson’s tattoo artist filed a lawsuit because he believed Warner Brothers had infringed on his IP rights when they used his tattoo design in a movie. Warner Brothers stated that it had been a parody, and therefore fair use of the design. The case was settled out of court and the terms remain undisclosed.
Other careers in business and finance law for J.D. graduates
You do not necessarily have to be an attorney to work in this sector. Other available positions include:
Corporate paralegalMedian salary: $66K
This requires in-depth knowledge of the law. A typical day might include conducting legal research, drafting correspondence, and filing documents with the court.
Intellectual property paralegalMedian salary: $69K
Like IP attorneys, paralegals can provide support and valuable information to those with IP questions or concerns.
Can I complete the J.D. online?
Currently, it is not possible to complete a J.D. fully online. Some areas of the J.D. can be quite complex, requiring some in-person coursework.
How long does the J.D. take to complete?
Typically 3 years. In addition, there are part-time options which take 4 years and 2-year accelerated programs.
When can I begin working as a business and finance attorney?
Theoretically, as soon as you have finished your degree and passed the bar exam. Passing this test requires considerable preparation. Once you have done so, you can become licensed and begin work.
Should I get a master’s of laws (LLM) if I want to practice business law?
You can get an LLM, but it is not required. A J.D. is sufficient, although some candidates do get an LLM to gain specialized knowledge and increase their chances in the job market.
Should I consider a clerkship?
A clerkship provides valuable experience in your chosen field. It also allows you to make legal contacts that may be beneficial when you graduate. Therefore it is a popular choice, and something you may like to consider during law school.