Business law is a broad and complex area that comprises the lifecycle of a business, from formation to daily governance, from securing investors to liquidation. It deals with the ownership, operation, and commercial needs of family-owned businesses and sole proprietorships, including real estate needs, bank financing and formalizing contracts with vendors, customers, and employees. It also encompasses the more complex needs of large, publicly-held corporations. It is common for business attorneys to practice as either transactional lawyers or litigators, with a small number having joint practices. Transactional business attorneys act as advisors, helping their clients build and structure their businesses. While litigators protect their clients' interests in the courtroom, they must also have a strong hold on the transactional side of the practice.
Business lawyers must be versatile in many areas of law, such as taxation, labor and employment, the environment, real estate, bankruptcy, restructuring and insolvency matters, mergers and acquisitions, public stock offerings, contracts, and federal securities compliance. Having a background in finance, business, or accounting is helpful but not required. In fact, large, national firms put a premium on law school grades and law review experience, rather than having a business degree or prior work experience in a business capacity. Some business lawyers are drawn to this practice area because of their background or interest in a particular industry (i.e., engineering, hospitality or real estate) allows them to relate to the experts and entrepreneurs in those sectors.
"The most successful business lawyers are ones who actively seek to understand their client's business and who take a genuine interest in the success of that business," says Tom Welsh, '89, a partner and business transactions and litigation attorney at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe L.L.P. "The difference between a good business lawyer and an excellent business lawyer is the willingness to immerse yourself in the business, so that your legal advice and guidance recognizes and harmonizes with the client's business objectives and strategies."
Areas of business law concentration:
- Corporate Law
- Banking and Corporate Finance
- Corporate Securities Regulation
- Regulatory Law
- Commercial Law
- Bankruptcy Law
- Tax Law
- Business and Corporate Litigation
- International Business Law
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Accounting for Lawyers (200)
- Bankruptcy (225)
- Business Associations (151)
- Business Planning (210)
- Employment Law (433)
- Federal Income Taxation (300)
- Taxation of Corporations & Shareholders (310)
- Taxation of Partnerships and S Corporations (314)
Breadth and Depth
- Advanced Torts (420)
- Banking Law (220)
- Bankruptcy Survey (223)
- Estate & Gift Tax/Estate Planning (302)
- Federal Securities Regulation (255)
- Foreign Investment and Development (695)
- International Banking (630)
- International Business Transactions (625)
- International Investment Arbitration (689)
- International Negotiations (631) Land Use Planning (560)
- Survey of Intellectual Property Law (275)
- Sports Law (297)
- U.S. Antitrust and International Competition Law (280)
- U.S. & International Sale of Goods (261)
- U.S. Taxation of International Transactions (375)
- Bankruptcy Clinic (875)
- Field Placement Semester in Practice (961)
- Field Placement Special Externship (958)
- Field Placement Business and Tax Law (951)
Business law attorneys bring a myriad of skills to the table. The day-to-day practice varies greatly and they need to always be prepared to handle the various challenges that their practice may bring. Below is just a sampling of skills that business law attorneys possess:
- Attention to detail
- Business Savvy
- Ability to work in a team setting
- Oral communication
- Law Review or other scholarly journal
- Other writing opportunities, such as judge externships or assisting a professor
- Moot Court
- Mock Trial
- Serve as a summer associate at a law firm that specializes in business law
- Develop contacts and network with lawyers who practice business law
Practice Settings & Clients
Where is business law practiced?
Business lawyers that represent small companies and businesses are located across the United States, from rural areas and small towns to large cities. Corporate business law tends to be conducted in global financial centers, including New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Tokyo. It also is located in growth areas such as China and India. National firms most often represent high-growth or public companies that have institutional investors, and are located in financial centers. In California, hotspots are San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palo Alto and Sacramento.
Where do business law attorneys work?
Business lawyers work in a variety of practice settings. These include:
- Private law firms of any size, including general firms with business practices, both transactional and litigation, and boutique commercial firms. Smaller firms or individual practitioners tend to represent self-proprietors, family-owned businesses and companies that have not taken capital from institutions or investors, while large national firms tend to represent companies that are high-growth, public or have institutional investors.
- Corporations (as in-house counsel). Attorneys tend to be hired as in-house counsel at large corporations in particular for their specialized legal knowledge in a specific practice area such as tax or environmental law.
- Solo practices
- Government agencies
Who are their clients?
- Businesses, ranging from “mom-and-pop” operations to global corporations.
- Employees of a company
- Government agencies
It is important to understand market conditions, keep current on industries you are interested in, the news and the relationship between public policy, politics and commerce, according to our alumni business lawyers.
Good publications to read:
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Economist
- Bloomberg Businessweek
- The Deal