Corporate Lawyer Career Information and Education Requirements

Learn about the educational and licensure requirements to become a corporate lawyer, and the job duties and career opportunities in this occupation to determine if this is a career for you.

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A corporate lawyer works for or on behalf of businesses or governments to provide legal counsel and services. A relevant undergraduate degree in a field such as finance or business and three years of law school are required before a prospective lawyer can take the bar exam and become licensed to practice law. Work can be found with law firms, government agencies, or as in-house counsel for a corporation.

Essential Information

Corporate lawyers are experts in business law and all related concepts. They defend clients and provide legal advisement, assistance and advocacy to corporations or government agencies in financial, securities or real estate law and other similar areas. They are subject to numerous educational and licensure requirements before becoming licensed corporate attorneys.

Required Education Juris Doctor (J.D.); Master of Laws (LL.M.) can lead to career advancement
Other Requirements ABA licensure by state
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% for all lawyers*
Median Salary (2015) $115,820 for all lawyers*

Source *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Corporate Lawyer Career Info

Corporate lawyers are responsible for understanding, defending and upholding any and all legal matters related to business and corporate affairs. Corporate lawyers may advise or defend individual clients or corporations in issues related to taxation, patents, mergers and acquisitions, global economics, securities, accounting, business contracts and more.

Job Duties and Career Opportunities

They are well-versed in all of the above areas, as well as being knowledgeable about business and finance law, corporate disputes and resolutions, and white-collar crimes, criminals and penalties. Their job duties may include meeting with clients and other attorneys, preparing legal briefs, opening and closing courtroom arguments, conducting research and compiling evidence.

Corporate lawyers generally work in private legal offices; however, some are employed by large law firms and others have their own private practice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are also employment opportunities within state or federal government agencies, as well as private corporations who may keep a corporate attorney on staff to offer advisement on business affairs or cases being prosecuted (www.bls.gov).

Licensure Requirements

In order to practice corporate law in the United States, all attorneys must pass the state American Bar Association (ABA) examination, otherwise known as the bar exam, in the state in which they wish to practice. Possession of a bachelor's degree and law degree from an ABA-accredited institution are generally required to take the bar exam. According to the BLS, lawyers in many states must also pass a mandatory ethical examination before obtaining licensure.

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Education Requirements

Becoming a corporate lawyer requires at least seven years of undergraduate and graduate education. Prior to entering law school, students must earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject and from an accredited institution. For students wishing to go into corporate law, commonly accepted undergraduate majors include business, economics and finance.

Many schools offer pre-law advisement services to help students determine the ideal courses and areas of study for the legal area in which they'd like to specialize. Aspiring corporate lawyers may devote their undergraduate education to familiarizing themselves with topics that will be prevalent in their legal careers, such as macro and microeconomics, philosophy, business law and finance.

Students may apply to law schools upon completion of bachelor's degree programs. Submission of undergraduate academic transcripts and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores are required for all applicants. Admissions are often highly competitive, with preference frequently granted to students who have high test scores and college GPAs.

Juris Doctor in Law Degree

Legal experience in the form of internships or mock trial participation may also be helpful. Once accepted to law school, students begin their specialized legal education, embarking on the 3-year process of earning a Juris Doctor (J.D.) in Law.

Aspiring corporate lawyers may pursue a basic J.D. or a dual-degree program in law and business, allowing them to earn their J.D. and MBA degrees simultaneously. Regardless of degree type, most law students follow a fairly standard curriculum.

The first year of a 3-year J.D. program educates students in such foundational concepts as civil, constitutional and criminal law, legal procedures, torts and legal communications. The second and third years of study emphasize more advanced areas of general law, like taxation, criminal proceedings and legal advocacy, while also allowing students to take electives in subjects more closely related to their area of concentration, such as organizational law or corporate finance.

After earning a J.D., corporate law students may also pursue their Master of Law (LL.M.), which is an advanced legal degree which renders students eligible to practice law outside the United States as well as allowing international corporate attorneys to practice in the United States.

While possession of the LL.M. is not required to take the bar exam, it can help corporate lawyers increase their expertise in their chosen field. Many LL.M. degree programs offer specializations in corporate law. Among the topics covered in required and elective courses are trademark and patent law, corporate conflict resolution, income taxes, white collar crimes and antitrust law.

As a corporate lawyer you will spend time in the courtroom, but you'll also do a lot of research and evidence collection, whether you work at a big legal firm, in private practice, or for a government department. Becoming a corporate lawyer takes patience and time -- seven years of college, plus the bar exam and even a Master of Law if you want to work internationally. Carefully selecting your undergraduate major and your electives in law school will help you towards your goal of practicing corporate law.

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