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Should I become a corporate lawyer?

29 August 2022

Practising law is one of the most prestigious career paths in Australia. But most people don’t realise just how vast the law industry is. With different types of lawyers specialising in different areas, it can be tricky to know which area is right for you.

Whether you are just commencing your law journey, or are already a lawyer wanting to pursue a new type of law, you may have asked yourself: should I become a corporate lawyer?

The answer to that question is personal, but we have put together a handy guide to help you through your decision, giving you insight into what corporate lawyers do, and how to achieve this role.

What do corporate lawyers do?

Corporate lawyers are also known as business lawyers. They usually work within corporations to guide companies through any legal matters.

David Chung, founding director of Creo Legal, has practised corporate law for many years and now runs his own law firm. We asked him to describe what corporate lawyers do.

“Corporate law is quite a broad category of law. There are people who are more transactional, doing mergers and acquisitions, so they help deal with the transfer of assets and businesses. Those types of lawyers usually only have a handful of big transactions at one time because they can take three, six and sometimes twelve months,” says Mr Chung. It can become even more complicated with larger corporate businesses and ASX-listed companies.

But corporate law is not all about big business. “It includes small business as well because most small businesses are still operated through companies,” Mr Chung reports. Corporate lawyers who work for small-to-medium enterprises may have several client files open at a time.

It’s crucial for corporate lawyers to have a variety of skills and knowledge. In a larger firm, you may have other legal teams that support you. “For example, a property team may support you for any property-related matters, if your client company owns land or has various leases,” says Chung. Or you may have a banking and finance team to assist you with loans and other money-related matters. “But generally, it’s the corporate lawyers who coordinate it all. You can’t just have no property knowledge or no banking and finance knowledge,” Mr Chung continues.

Mr Chung also mentions that corporate lawyers can support businesses that run their own companies. “They may not be selling or buying a business. But they may need advice on the day-to-day operations or even major decisions that the company needs to make,” he says.

Do corporate lawyers go to court?

Due to the transactional nature of the work they do, corporate lawyers rarely step inside a courtroom. They generally guide businesses to prevent and avoid litigation.

Why should I become a corporate lawyer?

There are many reasons why you should become a corporate lawyer. Practising corporate law offers you a wide range of career opportunities.

You may end up preferring to work with large corporate companies, or smaller businesses may interest you more. Whatever your preference, there are plenty of options for you to progress in your corporate law career.

Corporate lawyers sitting around a table discussing work

Corporate law in Australia

Australian corporate law gets much of its history from UK company law. Today, the Corporations Act 2001 governs corporate law in Australia. It’s administered by the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC).

In recent times, there has been a substantial growth of corporate lawyers in Australia.

For in-house lawyers, the growth has almost doubled – from approximately 7,300 in 2011 to around 13,300 in 2020. This represents an 82 per cent rise in corporate counsel in Australia. This increase is second only to government legal work.

While there is also a significant demand for lawyers in private practice, there seems to be a particular demand for corporate lawyers due to Australia’s large mergers and acquisitions market. But part of the recent increase in demand is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The international border closures prevented lawyers from entering countries like New Zealand and the UK, which meant they had to relocate to Australia to practice law.

What are the salary expectations - for corporate lawyers?

Given the number of qualifications, training and study required to be a corporate lawyer, it’s no surprise that legal professionals are among the top 10 salary earners.

But different areas of legal practice attract different salaries. The average salary for a corporate lawyer is $118,558.

How to become a corporate lawyer

There are a few pathways to becoming a lawyer in Australia.

The most common pathways are to study a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) or a Juris Doctor (JD). An LLB takes four years of full-time study to complete. If you’re completing a double degree (an LLB and a second degree), it can take five or more years to complete.

You can only enrol in a JD degree if you’ve already graduated with another degree. A JD qualification takes three years of full-time study to complete.

After you’ve successfully completed an LLB or JD qualification, you will need to complete Practical Legal Training (PLT), which leads to a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP).

This PLT aims to enhance the day-to-day skills you will need to practice law. Once you’ve completed one of them, you can apply for admission as a legal practitioner. There are several places where you can complete your PLT or GDLP.

The exact requirements vary slightly from state to state. However, as a general rule of thumb, a PLT takes about 15 weeks to complete full-time or 30 weeks part-time.

After this, you can apply to be admitted as a legal practitioner and begin working as a corporate lawyer in a law firm. You will need a practising certificate, but this is usually paid for by the law firm that employs you.

For career progression as a corporate lawyer, an online Master of Laws (Business Law) is a great option. It will allow you to develop an advanced understanding of commercial law, which is highly sought after by many law firms. Many larger firms require senior associates to complete a Master of Laws program before even considering promoting them to partner or director. “They want that higher level of expertise,” Mr Chung says. And it’s also useful if you’re wanting to start your own law firm as well.

Most law societies across Australia allow lawyers to become Accredited Specialists. This requires you to have a certain amount of experience as a practising lawyer. But a Master of Laws would also boost your application, given the knowledge you would gain.

SCU Online’s Master of Laws (Business Law) is 100 per cent online. This means you can fit it around your busy business schedule. There are six intakes per year, meaning you can start studying at a time that suits you. FEE-HELP is also available.

Other benefits of studying a Master of Laws (Business Law) with SCU Online include:

  • Specialising in business law, giving you higher-level expertise in the challenging area of commercial and corporate law
  • Obtaining an advanced knowledge of legal research so that you’ll be able to refine your research topic, locate relevant materials and present a research proposal
  • Equipping yourself with stronger critical thinking and analytical skills, a must for corporate lawyers
  • Being confident that SCU Online will present you with the most relevant case law to further cement your knowledge across every unit you complete

Fast-track your corporate law career with a Master of Laws (Business Law)

SCU Online’s Master of Laws (Business Law) is the perfect way to advance your corporate law career if you’re wondering whether you should become a corporate lawyer. Visit our Master of Laws (Business Law) page to learn more.