Are you thinking of becoming a corporate lawyer on qualification? If so, here’s what you need to know.
Tell someone you are a corporate lawyer and they are likely to look at you either with awe or pity, but rarely indifference. Depending on your point of view, corporate lawyers are either the glamourous rock stars of the profession or its pitiful drudges, chained to their desks when everyone else is in the pub.
The perception seems to be that being a corporate lawyer is some kind of trade-off. As Lucy Kellaway put it in the Financial Times: “Do you really want to be a corporate lawyer? You will earn a lot of money. You will work with bright people. But survey after survey shows that City solicitors are the least happy professionals around. They work the whole time.”
Having spoken to countless corporate lawyers at all levels over the years, it is simply not true to say they are all unhappy. Yes, hard work is a prerequisite for success, there’s no escaping that. But they take on interesting, varied work often involving high-profile transactions that cross continents and keep the world (or at least the business world) turning. As one Freshfields corporate trainee put it: “My experience is that when the hours are long, the work is often more exciting.”
Is corporate law for you? That depends on the type of person you are and what motivates you, and we’ll get to that. First though, let’s set out the type of work you can expect to do as a corporate lawyer in the UK.
In its broadest sense corporate law covers everything from company advisory work to multi-jurisdictional transactions. It includes raising finance, issuing shares in public companies and buying and selling businesses. In short, it envelops a huge range of legal activity and no two matters you work on will be the same.
In most big law firms corporate law is the powerhouse department. As Chambers Student says of the hugely profitable magic circle firms: “The work is heavily focused on corporate and finance: these departments stand at the heart of the firm overseeing multibillion-pound transactions. Teams like employment, tax and IP often play a supportive, advisory role in facilitating these transactions.”
So, what do you need in order to succeed as a corporate lawyer:
1. Energy. There’s no hiding from the fact that the hours are long, often very long. A recent survey in Legal Cheek has revealed how much time, on average, trainees and junior lawyers at large City firms spend at work each day. Kirkland & Ellis tops the list at 12 hours 28 minutes per day, with magic circle firms Clifford Chance (11 hrs 44 minutes) and Freshfields (11 hrs 37 minutes) not far behind. You could safely bet that corporate lawyers at these firms will have been among the hardest workers. “Pulling an all-nighter” is unlikely to be a rare occurrence.
2. Management and team working skills. Large corporate deals often require vast teams of specialised lawyers, each dealing with a small part of the big picture be it tax, pensions, employment, etc. Someone needs to manage these teams and draw together all the different strands. Keeping all those balls in the air is the role of the corporate lawyer running the show.
3. Organisational skills and attention to deal. Corporate law requires both the ability to see the big picture and an aptitude for close attention to detail so that no important points are missed. That’s why the hours are so long and the job so demanding. Being organised and able to stay on top of things is crucial
4. Wide legal knowledge and the ability to think innovatively. Corporate deals can be endlessly complex, especially when they cross jurisdictions. A broad legal knowledge is a must, as is the ability to come up with innovative solutions to difficult problems. There is rarely a roadmap to follow and you will often find yourself having to work with colleagues and clients to overcome what may seem at first like insurmountable barriers.
5. Confidence and the ability to win clients. As we’ve said, corporate deals bring in big bucks and that means competing for business in pitches and beauty parades. Having the charm and persuasive skills to win work is a rare skill and one that will set you on the fast track to partnership.
If you believe you have what it takes to succeed as a corporate lawyer, you may also like to consider the likely impact of Brexit on corporate work and your career prospects? Like everything else Brexit related, there is no clear answer to this, but we look at it in more detail in our recent blog, With Brexit looming, should you stay in law? And if so, which field should you specialise in?
In the meantime, if you are thinking about a career in corporate law post qualification, please go to NQSolicitors.com to see find out opportunities are available.