Big cat territory...
Corporate lawyers are an elite group in legal practice. If you work in this area of law, no doors will be closed to you.
The practice of corporate law involves general corporate matters, such as the incorporation of companies, directors’ and shareholders’ rights, articles of association, board meetings, secretarial matters and the public listing or delisting of companies.
No two corporate transactions or deals are the same. The differences can depend upon several factors, such as the type of industry, whether it involves single or multimarket businesses, and the size of the companies involved.
Clients in this area range from multinational corporations, investment banks and privately-held companies, to small and medium scale businesses, regulatory bodies and governments.
What does corporate law involve?
As a corporate lawyer, your portfolio of work will usually involve: acting on mergers and acquisitions (M&A), the restructuring of corporate entities and the hiving-off of unprofitable sections.
You might help list clients on stock exchanges across the world, secure finance from private equity players and venture capitalists.
Your work on any deal or transaction will move through different stages. Firstly, you might negotiate and prepare draft documentation in association with your client’s various accountants, financial advisors and managerial representatives.
Helping to procure finance, either from banks or private investors, securing guarantees and other assets, might form part of the deal, as will completing due-diligence reports and checking on debts, employees, ownership details and existing liabilities.
To top it off, you might finalise the deal with all involved parties, getting necessary approvals through resolutions at board meetings, and completing registration and other formalities wherever necessary.
Amongst the different types of deals and transactions which constitute corporate law, a big portion of work involves dealing with private equity funds and listing clients’ companies on recognised stock exchanges.
A private equity player usually holds some kind of stock or ownership in unlisted companies.
A private equity lawyer’s job is to make relevant financial arrangements when it comes to floating a new business venture, further expansion of operations, a tie-up or takeover with another company, or MBO financing.
What makes a good corporate lawyer?
To thrive in corporate law, you will need to develop an exemplary knowledge of business law, current trends and legislative and regulatory developments.
Furthermore, you will need to build up a familiarity with corporate and business law in other jurisdictions where your clients have operations or are looking to invest.
A corporate lawyer needs to have strong communication and negotiation skills, an excellent academic background, the ability to think ‘out-of-the-box’, exceptional analytical skills and meticulous attention to detail.
Teamwork is an essential feature of most corporate transactions. You will work with groups of professionals who share a common objective and therefore your interpersonal and people management skills should be top-notch.
A good corporate lawyer is ambitious, thrives on challenges and relentlessly chases their goals.
If you want to make big money then corporate law is for you. However, before you do think about committing to this area law, you should know that it is very competitive, you will be working insane hours and often be under immense pressure.
A ‘Day in the Life’ of Michael Smith, Trainee Solicitor at Ashurst.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
I try to be at my desk for 08:30 which allows me to prioritise the tasks ahead and read through the emails that have come in overnight from our international offices and clients. I then take a bit of time to read through the financial news for the day, as many of the deals in the corporate department feature in the press. Many of the deals we work on are heavily influenced by the health of the economy and current economic confidence so it's good to understand some of the geopolitical factors that may influence a client's decision making going forward.
Could you give us a quick breakdown of how you spend the average day in this seat?
The department at Ashurst is split between equity capital markets, mergers and acquisitions and private equity. The work can be hugely variable in terms of quantity, jurisdiction and industry sector, which results in no day being the same. As well as this on the job training, we have many departmental and trainee training sessions to attend, so there's never a dull moment. I also enjoy Pro Bono work, in particular assisting the National Deaf Children's Society to draft letters to assist their beneficiaries, which adds variety to my daily schedule.
What sort of hours do you put in as a corporate law trainee?
The hours can be unpredictable at times. Working long hours is common in the few days leading up to the closing of a deal. Hard work is appreciated and there is a real sense of achievement when there is a big team effort to get the deal over the line.
How much do you correspond with senior colleagues and clients on a daily basis?
Trainees sit in an office with a supervisor, who is typically a partner or senior associate, and a normal deal team comprises a partner, an associate and a trainee. As such there is plenty of opportunity to ask questions and to work with senior colleagues within the firm. Client contact grows throughout your seat and trainees are actively encouraged to speak to the client and manage conference calls. During a closing, the clients often come in to the office and sign the documents so it's great to meet them in person.
What sort of responsibilities do you have as a trainee in corporate law? Are you tackling hands-on project work or undertaking more general research and protocol training?
Contributing to the 'Know-How' of the Corporate department is important and the firm places a strong emphasis on writing articles for internal use, as well as external publications. We also undertake a huge amount of work on the project side of things; such as verifying prospectuses, drafting ancillary documentation and legal research. Despite being a first seat trainee, I was involved in many aspects of deals and whilst I found this a steep learning curve, it is one which has benefited me greatly throughout the rest of my training contract.
Interview with Sarah Moir-Porteous, trainee solicitor at Shearman & Sterling.
In just a few words, could you explain the sort of work you do in corporate law?
Contract review, negotiating and drafting ancillary documents, transaction management and overseeing physical and virtual signings.
What kind of projects have you been working on so far?
Acting for buyers and sellers in large (predominantly private) acquisitions. Usually the target will operate in a number of jurisdictions, so we have to work closely with our foreign offices and local counsel.
Do you tend to take on short-term tasks or work on longer-term projects?
A typical transaction probably lasts two to three months, but can be a lot longer or shorter depending on what the client wants. Public deals tend to take much longer than private deals due to the additional regulation.
How do you deal with the hours?
People are very reasonable and so long as you give them notice when you have plans you don’t want to miss it's fine. It is also acceptable to work from home if you can, meaning you don’t need to spend unnecessary evenings in the office.
Does your work put you in direct contact with clients?
Yes. I have attended a number of physical signings. The group is also very social and trainees are always invited to client events.
How does this seat compare with others you have completed?
A seat in corporate allows you to really get to know your client/the target business. It gives you a genuine insight into how they operate and allows you to focus on what matters to the client.