Corporate law has become one of the most sought-after career options for students, primarily because of the potential lucrative salary and growth opportunities that the field provides—but how do you become a corporate lawyer?
In this article, we’ll explore the pathway to corporate law. We’ll also cover how to become a corporate lawyer, career outlook, salary expectations, and more.
What is corporate law?
Corporate law involves the formation of companies and all legal issues relevant to owning, managing, and operating a business. Corporate laws keep all corporations operating on a level playing field, makes it easier for companies to conduct business, and ensures that corporations act in predictable ways that others can rely on.
There are different types of corporate law, including:
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Private equity
- Venture capital
- Corporate governance
Note that corporate law differs from commercial law, which involves the sale and distribution of goods.
What is a corporate lawyer?
A corporate lawyer is a type of lawyer who specializes in corporate law. The role of a corporate lawyer is to advise clients (usually corporations) of their rights, responsibilities, and duties under the law.
To be effective advocates for their clients, corporate lawyers must understand all aspects of:
- Contract law
- Tax law
- Securities law
- Intellectual property rights
- Zoning laws
- Laws specific to the corporate entity they work for
It is important to note that when a corporate lawyer is hired by a company, they represent the corporate entity, not the shareholders or employees.
Curious about other areas you can specialize in? Check out our resource hub to learn more about how to become a lawyer in different practice areas, such as:
What skills are required to become a corporate lawyer?
To become a corporate lawyer, you’ll need a mix of hard and soft skills.
Knowledge of company law
Corporate lawyers must have a thorough understanding of corporate law. They also need to know the subtleties that might apply in the various jurisdictions where that corporation has an office or conducts business.
Corporate lawyers can also benefit from specialized training to distinguish themselves from other candidates. For example, having a solid understanding or training in insurance law or employment law can help corporate lawyers who work with particular types of corporations.
Strong research, writing, and communication skills are essential for a successful corporate law career. You’ll pick up some of these skills in law school, and perfect them on the job or through internships.
One of the biggest parts of a corporate lawyer’s role is to help clients negotiate stronger contracts. Having strong negotiation skills will help you to persuade other parties to see things your way and obtain the best result for your client.
A corporate lawyer provides services to businesses, corporations, and organizations, which means clients rely on them to provide peace of mind, expert advice, and assistance in navigating their day-to-day legal transactions and company growth. Having client and company information nicely organized is crucial for a streamlined day-to-day.
Having tech that keeps that all in one place, like Clio, allows them to instantly generate common documents, improve collaboration—and ultimately, offer a better client experience.
What are the steps to become a corporate lawyer?
There are several requirements that you’ll need to meet to become a corporate lawyer, which we’ve outlined in detail below.
Get your bachelor’s degree
Law schools generally require a bachelor’s degree before admission, which typically takes four years to complete. However, most law schools will allow you to apply without having received your degree yet.
For the vast majority of attorneys, there are no particular undergraduate study requirements, though if you’re interested in corporate law, you may want to consider majoring in relevant subjects, such as:
We cover the educational requirements for lawyers here.
Take the LSATs
Before applying to law school, you must take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), which is offered monthly The LSAT tests for skills necessary for law school success, including reading comprehension, reasoning ability, and writing skills.
Applicants can take the LSAT up to three times within two years. For law schools considering applicants, undergraduate grades and the LSAT score are the primary factors. Accordingly, the higher your LSAT score, the better your chances of acceptance into a prestigious law school.
Once you’ve completed the LSAT, you’re eligible to apply to law school. If you’re trying to determine where to apply, be sure to read our review of the best law schools.
Go to law school
The law school curriculum will generally cover core areas of law for the first year and a half, such as criminal law, tort law, civil procedure, property law, and contracts.
You’ll also learn the basics of legal research, contracts, and legal writing.
In your second and third year, you’ll be able to take more specialized courses related to corporate law, such as antitrust law and corporate transactions.
After graduating from law school, you must sit for and pass the bar exam to become licensed to practice law in your state.
The bar exam is notoriously difficult and requires rigorous preparation and studying. Depending on the state, the exam will take two or three days. Moreover, bar exams are generally only available twice a year. This raises the stakes for each exam. Accordingly, it’s a good idea to take a bar preparation course.
Once you’ve passed and are licensed to practice law, you’ll need to get as much corporate law work experience as you can.
You may wish to work as an associate under a corporate lawyer, or pursue an internship or volunteer opportunity.
It’s also a good idea to network as much as possible. Legal conferences are a great way to meet legal professionals and stay up to date on legal trends. Some legal conferences even offer courses or talks that can contribute to continuing legal education (CLE). And since corporate lawyers also need to meet continuing education requirements to maintain their license, that makes conferences like Clio Cloud Conference an ideal place to not only network, but to also meet their CLE requirements!
Day in the life of a corporate lawyer
Corporate lawyers commonly have a full work schedule. It’s typical for it to range between 60-70 hours, which is quite demanding.
While no two days are the same for a corporate lawyer, a typical day in the life can include:
- Writing, reviewing, and negotiating contracts.
- Handling company mergers and acquisitions.
- Representing their client, whether in regulation meetings, court, or boards.
- Developing employee handbooks.
- Writing agreements between various parties and facilitating their completion.
- Mediating conflicts between higher-level employees of the organization.
- Advising owners and/or leadership teams of regulations and laws.
- Restructuring companies to meet the needs of owners and investors.
- Appraising the organization to share its value with potential investors or buyers.
Who hires corporate lawyers?
With corporations throughout the US and the world, corporate lawyers work everywhere.
Because all corporations of any size have significant corporate needs, some corporations choose to employ lawyers directly with the company. These lawyers are referred to as “in-house counsel.”
Banks, hospitals, insurance companies, and other major corporations also hire corporate lawyers. But there are some corporate lawyers who work by themselves or in a small firm.Those that do might focus on the business needs of smaller corporations or startups and build their client base with smaller corporations who operate in the geographic area.
Job outlook and salary
The average salary for a corporate lawyer is $147,700. Factors like education, certifications, skills, the area you live in, and the number of years in your profession can impact your salary.
This is why it’s important to grow your skill sets as a corporate lawyer; it helps to set you apart from the competition and make you more valuable to a potential employer.
For instance, if you’ve spent time working at a law firm as an intern, you’ll likely have picked up the cadence and flow for how corporate law works, but you’ll also have gained valuable experience in contract drafting and legal technology the firm uses to streamline workflows.
Employment of lawyers is projected to grow 10% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.
Final notes on how to become a successful corporate lawyer
The path to becoming a corporate lawyer is arduous but worthwhile. To become a corporate lawyer, you’ll need to have practical knowledge and skills, including commercial awareness, teamwork, communication skills, information analysis and research, confidence, and creativity.
And, if you’re ready to start applying for corporate lawyer jobs, be sure to read our blog post on crafting a lawyer cover letter that will get you noticed.