What can I do with a business law degree? (Skills & Career Options)
22 April 2020
Unlike many other postgraduate qualifications that narrow your focus into a specialist area, business law broadens your horizons. Whatever industry you’re working in, a business law degree gives you the potential to add value to your business, while opening doors and accelerating your career progression.
With a business law degree like SCU's Master of Business Law, you’ll be able to think like a lawyer while viewing the world through a corporate lens – so you can reduce risk and uncertainty. In a time when a virus can knock the world off its axis, a business law degree gives you a broad range of skills you'll need to confidently respond to any challenge.
What is a business law degree?
Business law refers to laws that affect the activities of people in business – whether they are producers or consumers, small businesses or corporations. These laws specify the rights, duties and obligations of people who operate businesses, as well as those who interact with them. A business law degree is not designed to make you a lawyer, but to enable you to safeguard your business and yourself. It gives you the ability to manage a range of business risks, so you can confidently protect and improve your business’ bottom line.
SCU’s Master of Business Law is a postgraduate degree for people who don’t already have a legal qualification, but their decisions have legal consequences.
What do you study in a business law degree?
Southern Cross University’s postgraduate business law degree gives you a deep understanding of your legal obligations in business. The topics covered can be customised to suit your business law career options. Let’s take a look at three of the most popular topics.
Intellectual Property Law
Intellectual property law is very similar to property law, except that the property under this microscope is a bit more intangible.
One example of intellectual property or IP law is the © for copyright which is often used to protect creative works. Earlier this year, a five-year IP law case determined that Led Zeppelin’s 1971 song ‘Stairway to Heaven’ did not breach the copyright of an earlier song from a band called, Spirit.
Another core area of IP is patents, which prevent others from making, using or selling inventions. Patents are particularly important for the innovations of tech disrupters, such as Google’s PageRank, Dropbox’s folder synchronisation and GoPro’s wearable camera.
IP in technology
IP also refers to the systems, processes and software that gives a range of businesses a competitive advantage. Technology often makes it easy to see and copy that IP, creating big risks for organisations.
Recently, two employees quit their jobs at IPC Global, a company that makes testing materials for asphalt and construction supplies. On their way out the door they copied IPC Global’s software – which they gave to a programmer in a new company they founded called, Pavetest. Even though the programmer used only 800 out of IPC’s 250,000 lines of code, the Australian Federal Court found that they had infringed copyright in the case of IPC Global Pty Ltd v Pavetest Pty Ltd (No 3) (2017) FCA 82. In addition to paying court costs and damages, Pavetest was ordered to stop selling their software and to destroy it. A very costly way to test the legal system in Australia.
How many executive business leaders or entrepreneurs have signed a contract that came across their desk and never looked at it again? According to SCU Online course coordinator Bede Lipman, it happens more often than you may think. “I practiced as a solicitor for 25 years, and a lot of the business people that I dealt with - the contract went in the bottom drawer. It was never looked at.” Mr Lipman explains that it’s not unusual for contracts to be looked at in detail only when a problem arises, like a delay in work or payment. Even then, most managers don’t know where to look in the contract for the answers they need, and they have to turn to a law firm.
“I think the great advantage for people doing advanced contract law, is that they'll learn what constitutes a binding contract and how to read the words of a contract in terms of risks and responsibilities,” says Mr Lipman.
Contract law also reveals how agreements can be binding, even without actual written contracts.
In the case of Musumeci v Winadell Pty Ltd (1994) 34 NSWLR 723, a shopping centre (Winadell) agreed to discount the rent of a tenant. Musumeci (the tenant) was a fruit shop that objected when another fruit-selling retailer opened in Winadell’s shopping centre. Amongst other things, the judge held that the rent discount was binding, because Winadell received the “practical benefit” of having a fully let shopping centre. Just like a fruit-selling competitor was bad for Musumeci’s business, empty stores were bad for Winadell’s business.
No doubt this is a precedent that will be relevant to many landlords during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Australian Consumer Law is a uniform law that applies to all businesses that sell or provide services to consumers. It provides every consumer in Australia with protection from misleading practices, unconscionable conduct and unfair terms in contracts. As Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, it’s federal law that applies to all states and territories – and therefore all businesses.
So, in addition to research skills, the ability to read and interpret consumer law is in high demand. Consumer law quickly rose to be top of mind for many businesses when Covid-19 restrictions prompted consumers to seek refunds for travel, events and gyms – all at once. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reminded businesses that,
“Failure by any business to honour its cancellations or refunds policy may constitute misleading conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.”
In more traditional times, consumer law often protects public interest and holds business to account for how they represent themselves in advertising and marketing.
Heinz found itself on the wrong side of consumer law because its packaging for a kid’s snack said “99 percent fruit and veg”. The treats were actually more than 60 percent sugar – so the packaging was deemed to be misleading consumers into thinking the contents were healthy.
What job roles/industries benefit from a business law degree?
SCU Online course coordinator Bede Lipman points out that anyone with a business law degree has the potential to add value to their business. “It's all about identifying potential problems and risks. In a reasonable way trying to work out - what's the best process for my company to deal with that issue? Can we deal with it here or do we need to brief lawyers?” Being able to answer those questions can save time, money and a lot of stress.
So, what jobs can you get with a business law degree? Here are some business law job opportunities.
In addition to employment laws, human resources specialists are at an advantage if they know business law. Most recently, Covid-19 has highlighted HR as a place for business law jobs as working from home becomes the new norm.
Well-prepared HR managers have responded by asking employees to provide photos of their home workstations. These images can reveal potential IP law risks, such as devices connected to the home WiFi that don’t have adequate security settings – a common weakness in printers. In addition to opening the office VPN up to cyber threats, these devices can also store copies of sensitive documents when they are printed.
The business law job outlook for HR professionals is healthy, with roles such as workplace relations officers earning between $120,000 and $140,000 per year. Human Resources managers can earn a similar salary and there’s a range of specialisations around employment laws, workplace relations and OH&S.
One of the key elements of marketing is the communication and promotion of products and services to consumers in order to sell. A detailed understanding of consumer law helps reduce risk, making this a popular business law degree career. Another area of business law that is particularly important in marketing is contract law.
At its most basic level, a contract needs an offer (usually from the business) and acceptance (usually by the consumer). Knowing what constitutes an offer as well as when and how it is accepted can be critically important for marketers.
Marketing managers can expect to earn between $100,000 and $120,000. A business law degree can also lead to more specialised roles such as regulatory affairs officer – developing policies for products and ensuring compliance in different global regions.
The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry revealed many shortcomings in the finance industry. It’s fair to say that both businesses and employees needed to improve their relationship with regulators and the law. While a lot has happened since Commissioner Hayne delivered his final report, there’s no doubt that embarking on a business law degree would be beneficial for anyone working in finance.
A key business law job in the finance sector is the compliance manager who oversees the policy and procedures that ensure compliance with regulations and regulators. Compliance managers can expect to earn between $120,000 and $140,000.
Intellectual Property Law has traditionally been an important area of knowledge in the media industry. Aside from imposing on the copyright of creatives, there are many intricacies around who actually owns intellectual property.
The media landscape is evolving rapidly from a centralised to a decentralised model. Instead of working for media companies, Media managers are more likely to work for large organisations who host their own media channels. Communications and Media managers in such organisations can expect to earn between $120,000 and $140,000.
A business law degree opens doors to job roles with local, state and federal government – as well as defence. Many of the organisations in these areas have been established by an act of legislation. Most of them have compliance departments to ensure that legislation is interpreted and applied effectively.
If your career should take you beyond the public service and into representation in council or parliament, you’ll be even more grateful for your ability to think like a lawyer. In addition to having the ability to read and understand contracts and legislation, you’ll also be more effective in meetings and negotiation.
Policy Officers and Advisers in government departments can expect to earn between $85,000 and $95,000, while Contracting Managers in the same area can expect to earn $100,000 to $130,000.
SCU Online course coordinator Bede Lipman recommends the elective course in Advanced Contract Law to all business owners. “Identifying what makes up a contract and what are the trigger points and risks in contracts puts people in good stead for not entering into bad contracts.”
Another business law job opportunity is to establish yourself as a management consultant, somebody that many business owners are keen to speak to.
Business owners are in the fortunate (or unfortunate) situation of being able to set their own salary. A business law degree will not only increase their value to the business but potentially reduce costs and losses in other areas. So, they can increase both their own salaries, as well as their employees!
Specialists in procurement need highly developed commercial and negotiation skills while being focused on financial savings and risk reduction. With a deeper understanding of contract law, it’s possible to respond faster in negotiations and flag risks before contracts are signed. By demonstrating these skills, procurement specialists are more likely to move faster along their career path to Supply Chain manager.
Procurement Specialists can expect to earn between $110,000 and $120,000, while Supply Chain managers can expect to earn between $120,000 and $140,000.
Will I be a lawyer if I do a business law degree?
The short answer is… no. To become a lawyer, you’ll need to complete a course that meets the requirements of legal practice boards around Australia, such as Southern Cross University's Bachelor of Laws. What you will get from doing a Master of Business Law is legal knowledge that you would only otherwise get in law schools.
So, as SCU Online course coordinator Bede Lipman suggests, you’ll be able to think like a lawyer and rely less on legal services. “And that is - what are the facts? What are the legal issues? What is the law and then how do I resolve a particular issue in the context of the legal outcome that is likely to happen? So, it's frame of reference and thinking that I think is really valuable.”
How will a business law degree benefit my career?
A business law degree will not only validate your experience in business but enable you to take advantage of economic opportunities. You’ll be able to identify risks early and clear obstacles personally, delivering more value to your organisation. Whether those risks are in contracts, processes or elsewhere in the business environment, you’ll have the capacity to respond faster with solutions that save time, effort and money.
Study SCU's Master of Business Law
SCU offers the Master of Business Law 100 per cent online, You can study when you want, where you want and continue to work throughout the course. That’s not only good for social isolation, but you’ll be able to apply your learnings immediately. Learn how a Master of Business Law degree can help you today.