Corporate lawyers advise corporations on a host of issues. They might deal
with financial issues, such as initial public offerings, mergers or acquisitions.
Harassment suits lodged by employees and liability issues also cross their
desks. These lawyers may appear before government boards or before stockholders.
And while their goal is often to keep cases from ending up before a judge
or jury, they're as comfortable in a courtroom as in a boardroom.
According to Peter Letsou, a University of Cincinnati law professor, corporate
law is ideal for aspiring lawyers wanting to avoid the jury. "Most corporate
lawyers probably never step into a courtroom in their lives. I practiced for
about four years before I became a professor. During that period, I never
went into a court, I never wrote a brief, I never argued any kind of motion
or did anything like that. I think that's typical," says Letsou.
Being a corporate lawyer is kind of like being a businessperson. They write
contracts to buy and sell stocks and products. They borrow and lend money.
"It's probably closer to being a banker than it is to being a courtroom
lawyer," says Letsou. "What most people would think of as a corporate lawyer
is almost a business lawyer. What most corporate lawyers do, rather than argue
motions in court and go to trial, is essentially write contracts."
Letsou says corporate law is an attractive career for people interested
in finance. "You tend to be dealing with bigger things and lots of money and
complicated transactions," he says.
Corporate lawyers may work as part of a large law firm. "A lot of people
practice in big firms, which is what I did," says Letsou. "The firm I practiced
in probably had between 200 and 300 lawyers....You're part of a bigger structure."
Most large corporations hire in-house lawyers. When only one lawyer is
on staff, they must be prepared to deal with any legal issue on a moment's
notice. However, corporate lawyers rarely take on solo missions.
"Billion-dollar corporate takeovers just can't be done by one person,"
says Letsou. "A lot of the big transactions just require lots of expertise,
and therefore lots of people."
In-house corporate law has its perks, but the money is usually less than
it is at the firms. "It's considered less stressful," says Letsou. "It's thought
of as a friendlier lifestyle. The time is less, [but] the money is generally
While corporate lawyers usually work regular workday and week schedules,
late nights and even weekends are common when preparing a case for trial.
And lawyers must spend much of their own time keeping up with changing laws
and court decisions that could impact their work.
Lawyers are notorious for working long, hard hours. According to corporate
commercial lawyer Wendy Reid, long hours are getting longer for lawyers.
"Quality of life is a [big] issue. Some people have [a] very negative view
of law. A lot of [young women] are leaving the profession, because it's difficult
to raise a family, and to keep working at the pace that most law firms in
private practice expect," says Reid.