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How to Become a Corporate Lawyer

Business people and lawyers discuss signing a contract

Becoming a lawyer requires a lot of work – you must perform well in school, be accepted and graduate law school, take the bar, and maintain your state licensure. Corporate lawyers are no different than any other area of law in that regard; it takes a lot of planning, hard work, and dedication to become a corporate lawyer. 

The Route: Steps to Becoming a Corporate Lawyer

Corporate lawyers must become experts in business law to properly advise their clients. Here are the requirements to becoming a corporate lawyer:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited University in a relevant subject.
For corporate lawyers, these may be macro and microeconomics, business law, business finance, or philosophy. Although it is not a requirement to get a degree in these subjects, it’s helpful in order to familiarize yourself with the type of legal work you’ll be doing.

Bachelor’s Degree:
Average Time: 4 years
Average Cost: $50,000 – $140,000

2. Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
This is the standardized test by the Law School Admission council. It’s administered 6 times per year, and is required in order to apply to law school. 

Suggested Study Time: 150-300 hours
Exam Registration Cost: $190 

3. Earn a Juris Doctor in Law Degree.
This may be the most challenging step to becoming a corporate lawyer – applying and completing law school. For aspiring corporate lawyers, it is common to pursue a dual degree in Law and Business. In addition to a standard legal curriculum, you will study areas like taxation, corporate finance, intellectual property, and organizational law. 

J.D. Education/Degree
Average Time: 3 years
Average Cost: $138,000

4.Take the Bar Exam.
This is the standard test administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) for all aspiring lawyers. It will test your knowledge and skills required to officially practice law. It’s administered twice a year, and broken up into three parts. Read more in detail about the bar exam here. 

Bar Exam:
Suggested Study Time: 400 hours
Exam Registration Cost: $100 – $1300 (depending on your state)

These are the main steps to a career in corporate law, but remember, it’s not always a straight path. It may take time to realize that this is your calling.

It would be wise to consider the cost and time invested. In addition to the costs outlined above, remember to consider lost wages that your may accrue during your studies for exams or during your time searching for your first paying legal job. This is a great article that outlines where to find the financing for your legal education investment. If you’re unsure that this is the path to take, consider shadowing or interning with a law firm to determine if this career path is right for you. 

Although the education and time to become a corporate lawyer may be overwhelming, consider the high pay off of this career. Here’s some reasons why one may want to pursue this path: 

Why Choose Corporate Law

So why become a corporate lawyer? The two main reasons a law student or aspiring lawyer may want to work in corporate law are: 

#1: Your work is done in the boardroom vs. the courtroom, 
#2: It is a lucrative career path

Reason #1: You have a passion for business and finance

Corporate law is the best category for your legal career if you have a strong interest in business and finance and are looking for a legal career path that would allow you to flex your business acumen, negotiation skills, and knowledge of finance. As a corporate lawyer, your clients will consist of large companies and have you working closely with c-suite executive teams. Your primary areas of work will be: 

  • Mergers and Acquisitions: performing all legal work required for your corporate client to either absorb another company, or add it to its portfolio. You may also have a client that is the one being added or bought by a larger company. This can be a very complicated area of corporate law, as M&A’s require a lot of follow-on advisory when the two companies come together; for a merger or acquisition to be successful, it’s important that there is an integration plan for both companies to succeed in the future together. See our write up on M&A Mistakes to Avoid. 
  • Initial Public Offerings: As the legal advisor to your corporate client, it may be in the client’s best interest to initiate an IPO, aka “go public.” IPO’s are time consuming, and very costly, but may result in greater growth, long term capital, and increased market share for the client. As their corporate or IPO lawyer, your knowledge of the IPO process and  SEC regulations and reporting gets put to use. You will draft the offering documents, including the prospectus which is key to telling the company’s story. This is where your nuanced understanding of business will be critical to the client’s success. 
  • Restructuring of Assets: Your client’s company may need to restructure their assets in order to improve profitability and re-prioritize their capital. As their corporate lawyer, you’ll assist in the selling off parts of the business, and changing their equity and debt in their capital structure. Your strategic legal advice in these areas will be crucial, as corporations will usually only restructure their assets under times of restraint like in a changing market, or hostile takeover. 

These are just examples of the type of work corporate lawyers do. There is a lot more, including incorporation of companies, company filings, contracts, patents, and all things governance and compliance. The types of clients you have, and the specific firm you work for will determine the type of work you get as a corporate lawyer. 

Reason #2: Corporate Lawyers are High Earners

What you earn as a lawyer greatly depends on your firm, your skills, and your clientele. The median salary for a corporate lawyers in 2015 was $115,820 for corporate lawyers. However, if you become a partner or take a percentage of your deal flow, you could potentially earn almost 10 times that amount. Again, this depends on your skill level, experience, and deal structure with your clients. The growth rate for corporate lawyers is 6% (from 2014-2024)

The Bottom Line: 

It takes, on average:

  • 4 years and roughly $80,000 for a bachelor’s degree
  • 160+ score on the LSAT (if you want to get into a top 25 law school)
  • 3 years and roughly $138,000 on a J.D. degree
  • Passing score on the BAR exam 

Overall, corporate law is still a growing industry and a great option to consider if you’re interested in business, finance, and not working in a courtroom. The work and steps taken to kick off a career in corporate law has a positive financial outlook. Just make sure you love what you do, as corporate law requires a lot of hard work and hours making sure you’re achieving the most for your clients. 

September 4, 2019

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