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 include: Corporate Law; Banking and Corporate Finance; Corporate Securities Regulation; Regulatory Law; Commercial Law; Bankruptcy Law; Tax Law; Business and Corporate Litigation; International Business Law; and Mergers and Acquisitions.
Breadth and Depth
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:
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.
Business lawyers work in a variety of practice settings. These include:
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: