Business law is a broad and complex area that comprises the lifecycle of a business, from formation to daily governance, from securing investors to liquidation. It deals with the ownership, operation, and commercial needs of family-owned businesses and sole proprietorships, including real estate needs, bank financing and formalizing contracts with vendors, customers, and employees. It also encompasses the more complex needs of large, publicly-held corporations. It is common for business attorneys to practice as either transactional lawyers or litigators, with a small number having joint practices. Transactional business attorneys act as advisors, helping their clients build and structure their businesses. While litigators protect their clients' interests in the courtroom, they must also have a strong hold on the transactional side of the practice.

Business lawyers must be versatile in many areas of law, such as taxation, labor and employment, the environment, real estate, bankruptcy, restructuring and insolvency matters, mergers and acquisitions, public stock offerings, contracts, and federal securities compliance. Having a background in finance, business, or accounting is helpful but not required. In fact, large, national firms put a premium on law school grades and law review experience, rather than having a business degree or prior work experience in a business capacity. Some business lawyers are drawn to this practice area because their background or interest in a particular industry (i.e., engineering, hospitality or real estate) allows them to relate to the experts and entrepreneurs in those sectors.

"The most successful business lawyers are ones who actively seek to understand their client's business and who take a genuine interest in the success of that business," says Tom Welsh, '89, a partner and business transactions and litigation attorney at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe L.L.P. "The difference between a good business lawyer and an excellent business lawyer is the willingness to immerse yourself in the business, so that your legal advice and guidance recognizes and harmonizes with the client's business objectives and strategies."

Areas of business law concentration include: Corporate Law; Banking and Corporate Finance; Corporate Securities Regulation; Regulatory Law; Commercial Law; Bankruptcy Law; Tax Law; Business and Corporate Litigation; International Business Law; and Mergers and Acquisitions.

Professional Resources

It is important to understand market conditions, keep current on industries you are interested in, the news and the relationship between public policy, politics and commerce, according to our alumni business lawyers.

Good publications to read:

  • Law360
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • The Economist
  • Forbes
  • Bloomberg Businessweek
  • The Deal