If you're interested in business and law, a career in corporate law offers a way to work in both worlds. Depending on your experience and expertise and the needs of the business you serve, your responsibilities as a corporate lawyer could range from negotiating contracts with suppliers to identifying legal risks in a merger to guiding management on regulatory and compliance matters.
Regulatory demands are spurring corporate legal departments to go head-to-head with law firms for talented legal professionals, particularly those with compliance, corporate transactional and contract administration backgrounds. Renewed business growth and rising workloads are other factors driving hiring in the field of corporate law.
Many corporate legal departments are growing their teams because they need to watch the bottom line in a post-recession environment where businesses remain highly cost-conscious. This staffing strategy may sound counterintuitive — expanding payroll to reduce costs. But it's a way for in-house legal teams to handle rising workloads and increase efficiency while reducing their dependency on the services of outside law firms, according to Robert Half Legal's Future Law Office report.
If a corporate law career track sounds enticing to you, here are four things you should know before sending your resume to prospective employers:
1. It helps to be a specialist
Most corporate law departments are looking for legal professionals with specific skills. They need specialists to help them support higher demand for business-related legal services, including commercial litigation, contract management and patent filing. These specialists get ample opportunities to deepen their expertise, which can make them even more marketable for future roles in law or business.
2. Business acumen is a bonus
Many corporate legal departments are also seeking new associates with relevant business experience — and if that experience was earned in their industry or a related sector, all the better. Legal professionals with keen business acumen are valued for their ability to understand how decisions affect clients, other departments, and the company as a whole. Corporate legal departments are sometimes expected to help company leadership identify new business opportunities that don't pose, according to the Robert Half white paper The Specialist Economy.
3. Information technology knowledge may be required
With Canadian data privacy and data security legislation among the most stringent in the world – consider the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and the new Canada Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) – this is an area of top concern for Canadian corporate legal departments. This is because most businesses rely heavily on technology not only for everyday operations but also to build their brands, interact with customers, innovate and more. It is therefore essential for corporate lawyers to understand the many ways technology supports the business, and the potential risks that devices, systems, applications and new ways of working, such as cloud computing, may pose.
4. Work-life balance could be hard to maintain at times
Some legal professionals choose the corporate law path specifically because they want to improve their work-life balance, which can be hard to do in a traditional law firm environment. It's true that corporate lawyers don't need to worry about the constant pressure to rack up billable hours or to build books of business, but this doesn't mean they are free from stress, long hours and sometimes tedious work.
Depending on the company's geographic reach and legal demands, frequent travel may be another requirement for corporate lawyers. So, although a corporate law career may provide more flexibility to manage both business and personal obligations compared to a law firm position, it is unlikely to be a 9-to-5 job.