Diverse Opportunities - Fulfilling Your Dream of Being a Corporate Lawyer
One of the most coveted positions in the practice of law is to become a corporate lawyer. Generally, it is because attorneys seek large salaries and 40-hour workweeks.
However, the reality is that there are a number of different ways to serve as a corporate counsel. The most well-known is to be employed as an attorney for a corporation. The most demanding is likely to work at a national law firm that serves the needs of a number of corporate clients. An attorney can also diversify their own practice to include this area of law. There are a number of different opportunities that can allow you to achieve your goal of becoming a corporate lawyer.
Working In-House For A Corporation
A number of attorneys strive to work as in-house counsel for large corporations. The dynamic of a number of these corporations is to have a large team of attorneys who specialize in very specific areas of law that require fundamental lawyering skills regarding mergers and acquisitions, government reporting, and taxes. The legal issues can be complex and very invigorating. These positions tend to have high salaries and very demanding hours. Therefore, attorneys can become "owned" by the corporation - to the detriment of their personal lives.
If you want to practice in this area, I would recommend conducting research regarding the reputation of the business as well as discussing the demands with someone who works there so you can make an informed decision of how it will affect your professional and personal life.
Another option is to work as in-house counsel at a midsize or smaller corporation. I know a number of attorneys who, after practicing in different areas, accepted positions at a business as in-house counsel. These attorneys work at smaller businesses with 40-hour work weeks and they earn reasonable salaries. They value the stability of this employment but do not find the work particularly challenging as they tend to address contractual and employment issues on a daily basis. Overall, a number of attorneys enjoy the benefit of the quality of life that is afforded when working as in-house counsel for a smaller business.
National Law Firms That Specialize In Representing Corporate Clients
For the last ten years, I have represented plaintiffs against the big banks regarding mortgage fraud. As the cases tend to last for years, I have had the opportunity to get to know a number of banking lawyers from nationally recognized law firms.
At these firms, the attorneys have very demanding requirements for billable hours as well as required work hours, which can include evenings, weekends, and holidays. One attorney shared that he was the highest biller at his nationally recognized law firm and his reward for his success was a higher billing requirement the following year with the same financial compensation.
One of the benefits of large firms is that they afford the opportunity for newly licensed attorneys to get experience. The starting salaries for new attorneys tend to be attractive and they have the opportunity to work under the direction of a senior attorney, which is a tremendous benefit because there is so much to learn when you start practicing law.
On the downside, the billing requirements are high, the hours demanding, and promotion is a very competitive process. As such, these firms provide opportunities for new attorneys to gain two to three years of experience that they can use for promotion if they are tenacious enough to stay with the firm or use it as means of taking their career to the next level at another firm.
For those who succeed at these firms, they can follow the path to becoming a partner as well as specialize for big bank clients by becoming financial lawyers - which is a coveted and lucrative position.
Representing Corporate Clients As Part Of Your Private Practice
Another means of working with corporate clients is to make it part of your general practice. This can include assisting clients with the formation of new businesses. Some of the responsibilities include a business name search to ensure the name is available, drafting the operating agreement, articles of incorporation, subsequent documents, and filing them with the Secretary of State. You will need to stay current on the law, but it is a rather streamlined process, does not require a demanding timeframe, and can be a lucrative part of your practice.
By trade, I am a civil litigation attorney. However, I am also corporate counsel for a medical group. As part of my responsibilities, I attend board meetings and provide counsel on issues that arise. This provides the medical group with the benefit of corporate counsel while keeping their expenses reasonable, as I bill on an hourly basis.
One area of caution is that my duties owed are to the corporation. In this type of arrangement, there can be one shareholder who wants to be in control of the corporation, but the attorney must stay the course and solely represent the interests of the corporation.
Though shareholders and members enter into business relationships with the best of intentions, they can break down to the point where it is similar to a contentious divorce. I am currently representing a member of an LLC where the other two members have turned against my client. It is to the point where the relationship cannot be saved and I am working on the exit strategy for my client. It is going to be contentious, expensive, and financially detrimental to a thriving business. As such, more care should have been taken at the time of drafting the operating agreement to address how to protect a minority member.
Derivative actions are when a shareholder or member asserts a cause of action, usually against an officer, where the corporation or association has failed to assert this action on its own behalf for injuries to the corporation. This is a very specialized area of the practice of law and I highly recommend not taking on this type of representation unless you have significant experience as a corporate attorney.
Achieving Your Goal of Being a Corporate Lawyer
There are a number of variations regarding practicing as a corporate lawyer - however, they all require fundamental lawyering skills including maintaining your duties and responsibilities to the corporate client. As the needs of corporate clients are very precise, make sure you conduct your research before you endeavor to work in this area. As it is a specialty, I would also recommend taking some continuing education classes to ensure that you are current with your knowledge, understanding, and implications of corporate law. With research, education, and tenacity, you can achieve your dream of being a corporate lawyer by working for a corporation or law firm as well as incorporating it into part of your private practice.