Exploring this Job
Talk to corporate lawyers about their jobs. Ask them what they like and dislike about their careers, how they broke into the field, and other questions that will help you learn more about this specialty. Your school counselor can likely help arrange an interview. You might also consider contacting the Association of Corporate Counsel for help in scheduling an interview.
Read business publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fortune, and Forbes to learn about issues faced by corporations.
If you are already in law school, you might consider becoming a student member of the American Bar Association (ABA). Student members receive Student Lawyer, a magazine that contains useful information for aspiring lawyers. Sample articles from the magazine can be read at http://abaforlawstudents.com/stay-informed. The ABA also publishes several professional publications for corporate lawyers, including The Business Lawyer, Franchise Law Journal, and the Journal of Labor and Employment Law. Visit https://www.americanbar.org/products/publishing to learn more about these publications. Other useful resources include ACC Docket (http://www.accdocket.com) and Corporate Counsel (https://www.law.com/corpcounsel).
Corporations of all sizes employ lawyers to assist with a wide range of legal and business issues—ranging from tax and compliance, to employment and international commercial law, to intellectual property or real estate law, to litigation. Because the job of a corporate attorney is to advise the corporation in legal matters that affect it, the nature of the job depends on the business in which the particular company is engaged. If the corporation is an insurance company, for example, its staff attorneys ensure that the company complies with the applicable laws and government regulations and plan the defense of litigated cases in which the company’s clients are involved. An attorney employed by an airline, railroad, or other transportation company, on the other hand, works with the various federal and state administrative boards and commissions that govern those operations. Whether a lawyer becomes a specialist or handles a more general series of problems depends on the size of the company, what kind of company it is, and the lawyer’s position within the company.
Corporate lawyers’ duties also vary greatly based on the size of the employer. A corporate lawyer at a large Fortune 500 company, for example, will have very specialized duties—often focusing on one specialty such as taxation, litigation, intellectual property, or labor law—while a lawyer employed by a smaller company will work on all the aforementioned issues, as well as any other legal and business issues that arise as a result of the operation of the business.
Despite the variety and type of employers, corporate attorneys are responsible for the following general duties regardless of their employer or industry:
- reviewing and drafting contracts, annual reports, and other legal documents
- preparing and filing government reports
- preparing internal reports for company executives
- ensuring compliance with local, state, and federal laws and regulations
- negotiating and drafting commercial agreements
- reviewing new business agreements
- providing legal advice to business executives regarding business transactions (such as mergers and acquisitions), including identifying risks and proposing alternative structures to mitigate risks in potential transactions
- representing their companies in litigation and other legal proceedings
- briefing internal stakeholders on investigations, compliance, and other issues
- identifying legal issues relating to proposed products or services
- conducting legal research
- developing and conducting training sessions and workshops as requested on topics such as sexual harassment and discrimination
- acting as lead negotiator in collective bargaining negotiations
- representing the company during arbitration hearings
- working with the chief legal officer and other top management on legal and business issues
- reviewing and updating personnel policies
- supervising paralegals, outside counsel, and other support professionals