A corporation is a legal entity created under the laws of the state in which it is incorporated. Individual states have the power to enact laws and govern the formation, operation, and dissolution of a corporation. Since corporations are required to comply with state, and sometimes federal regulations, there are numerous legal issues that may arise. A corporate lawyer is a law expert that handles all legal matters related to a business, including ensuring a corporation complies with corporate law. Read on to learn more about a corporate lawyer.
What Does a Corporate Lawyer Do?
Since corporate law covers a broad range of topics, corporate lawyers are required to have a varied skill set. The business attorneys must be proficient in legal research to guarantee the corporation’s transactions are continuously in compliance with state and federal rules and regulations. They must also help the business avoid legal risks and violations, negotiate and bargain on behalf of clients, and represent the corporation should a lawsuit arise.
Other responsibilities of a corporate lawyer include:
- Preparing legal documents for court proceedings
- Designing and governing the corporation’s policy regarding legal matters
- Writing and revising contracts
- Overseeing mergers or acquisitions
- Giving legal advice on business transactions
- Evaluating new business partnerships
A corporate lawyer has an initial meeting with clients so that both parties can determine whether the relationship would be beneficial. If the parties agree to work together, the client may be asked to sign a retainer agreement, which is a contract that outlines the attorney/client relationship. Once hired, the attorney deals with all legal aspects of running a corporation.
In general, small corporations work with one or two corporate lawyers, but it is not uncommon for large corporations to work with several, each with their own specialty. For example, a major manufacturing company may use a lawyer that specializes in contracts, one that handles lawsuits, and one that concentrates solely on mergers and acquisitions.
Corporate Lawyer Fees
Corporate lawyer fees vary greatly, and most require a retainer agreement. The retainer is a certain amount charged by the attorney, often between $500 and $5,000, put into a special account for the lawyer to use as services are rendered.
The lawyer carefully keeps track of any time spent working on the case, and is required to provide the documentation to the client to show how the retainer is spent. On occasion, a case will continue after the retainer is gone and, in that instance, the client may be asked to pay an additional retainer to cover costs.
Typically, corporate lawyer fees are charged as an hourly rate. The lawyer charges a specific amount each hour that he is involved in a corporation’s legal issues. The hourly rate however, does not usually apply to extra services such as travel, courier services, and filing fees, which are charged at the actual cost.
Professional Requirements to Become a Corporate Lawyer
In order to become a corporate lawyer, an individual must obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related subject area, such as business, finance, or economics. They may also pursue a dual-degree in law and business to broaden their career prospects upon graduating. After successfully completing the undergraduate program, the individual must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a standardized test that assess logical, verbal, and reasoning proficiency, along with reading comprehension.
The next step is attending an ABA-accredited law school to receive a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree. While in law school, the student studies various concepts related to civil and criminal law for the first two years, and more concentrated areas of law the following two years. For hands-on experience, students may also complete internships and attend clinical programs.
After completing law school, students are required to pass the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) before taking the bar exam (excluding those in Maryland, Wisconsin, and Puerto Rico). The MPRE is a standardized exam that tests the graduates over the conduct required by the American Bar Association (ABA).
The Bar Exam is the final step in becoming a licensed attorney. This test is broken down into two sections: state and multi-state. However, to practice law in multiple states, the lawyer must pass the bar in each of those states.
Additional Education and Experience
After earning a J.D., a student can obtain a Master of Law (L.L.M), which is an advanced degree that allows them to study specific areas of the law more closely. This degree also allows them to practice law outside of the U.S. After becoming a member of the bar, lawyers can also choose to become certified in specialty areas, such as civil trial law, through the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification.
Additional Licensing Requirements
Almost all states have additional licensing requirements, and these vary greatly. For example, in Montana, in order to maintain a law license, the individual must complete 15 hours of continuing legal education each year, and 3 hours of ethics courses every 3 years.
In Maryland, continued education is not required, but lawyers must fulfill annual reporting requirements, and pay fees associated with maintaining a license to practice law. One reporting requirement is submitting a report with information related to at least 50 hours of pro bono work (providing legal services free of charge) each year.
Where Can You Work as a Corporate Lawyer
Corporate lawyers serve the corporation in which they are employed, rather than individual clients. They often work in mid-size or large law firms that have a corporate law department. However, they can also work for small firms, or as solo practitioners.
Some corporate lawyers work as in-house counsel. This means that the attorney is employed directly by the corporation, and that corporation is their only client. Lawyers working as in-house counsel are tasked with handling all legal issues that arise during the course of business.
How do Corporate Lawyers Get Paid
How corporate lawyers are paid is dependent on the attorney or firm. Some charge a flat rate for certain services, while others charge by the hour. The hourly rates range from $150 to $325 depending on the lawyer’s experience and the current market. Along with hourly fees, the client is often responsible for additional charges, such as filing fees. Corporate attorneys may also require a retainer fee, which varies depending on the firm and the case.
Corporate Lawyer Salary
For 2017, the median annual salary for lawyers is $119,250, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. It does not break down the different areas of law practiced, however, so the salary will vary. Successful lawyers can make upwards of $200,000 per year, which is the higher end of the spectrum.
Employment Outlook for Corporate Lawyers
The field of law for attorneys, including corporate lawyers, is predicted to grow at a rate of 8% by 2026. Since more students are graduating from law school each year, the competition for lawyer jobs is increasing.
Hiring a Corporate Lawyer
Once you have decided on hiring a corporate lawyer, the next step is selecting one that will be beneficial to your corporation. The nature of the business will play a large role in selecting an effective attorney. For instance, if your corporation is a technology company, a lawyer that specializes in intellectual property rights might be the best option. If you run a small service business, one that deals primarily with contracts and client negotiations may be a suitable choice.
Since larger firms often have easy access to more resources, they may be beneficial for businesses with complex legal issues. On the other hand, small businesses and startups may find themselves low on the priority list as the firm focuses on bigger, more established clients. Small firms or solo practitioners are often able to give small businesses more attention, yet they may not have as many resources available.
When you find a lawyer that you think might be a good fit, set up an initial consultation, which is often free of charge. This introductory meeting allows you to explain your business goals, and the role you expect the lawyer to play. It also gives you the chance to ask questions regarding the attorney’s expertise and experience. This consultation is also the right time to inquire about fees associated with the attorney’s services.
To ensure you find the lawyer that will be most beneficial to your corporation, meet with more than one before making a decision. If you have doubts about a certain attorney, you should continue your search.
How to Find the Right Corporate Lawyer
With so many options available, setting out to find the right corporate lawyer can be an overwhelming task. One of the best options is to get a referral from a legitimate source. If possible, ask for recommendations from a practicing lawyer, or a friend with experience with hiring lawyers that specialize in corporate law. You can also check into online databases, which contain information about local attorneys, such as reviews and disciplinary records. The Bar Association attorney directory for your state can also be a useful resource.
After narrowing down the choices, it is a good idea to spend some time researching the attorneys or law firms on your list. Most firms have websites that include information about each attorney, including their education, areas of practice, and notable works or cases.
|Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) is optional
|Licensure in state of practice
|Detail-orientated, creative problem-solving, critical thinking, negotiation, verbal and written communication, knowledgeable about constitutional and civil law, ability to work in a fast-paced environment, familiar with business transactions
|Number of Jobs (2016)
|8% growth rate (average growth rate)
|Median Salary (2017)
|On the Job Training
|Internships, clinical programs, and on-the-job training
|Top earners in the field are generally employed by large corporations
(*Source: the BLS)