Walking down the hallowed doorways, into the plush offices of my dream law firm, I felt I had arrived. Is it not the end game for most law students, to be a part of the big law firms? And to have done it right off the bat? It has to be one of the most exhilarating moments in my life.
A year later, I had moved to an in-house job. My big law dream was short-lived. The crazy hours, the piles of files, the long billable hours and conferences, made me burn out from both the ends. In an attempt to salvage the situation, I thought of moving to the 9-5 job. But the reality of in-house job was an eye-opener. The work of a corporate lawyer is not a piece of cake. In the initial years you go through the grind and hope to get used to it.
The life of an in-house lawyer is not much different from the lawyers at the law firm, except probably in the structure and nature of work. The in-house lawyers have to report and communicate to the management, formulate policies for the company and various departments. This is apart from all the contract drafting, advisory, negotiation, litigation, etc. We even had a live webcast with the lead counsel at the Taj’s northern and middle east operations about the life of an in house lawyer. You can access the webcast here.
The point is, that corporate lawyers’ work is not easy, be it in-house or law firm.
The initial years at the law firm were gruelling as it should be. You learn the most in the initial years after all. But the lack of a systematic guidance mechanism is what makes the process gruesome. The volumes of work piling on the desk ranging from due diligence to drafting contracts, etc.
Then there is lack of intermittent feedback from the seniors. The seniors are busy with the work on their platter, hence they delegate and assign parts to the rookies. This way the rookies get to learn as well as the work gets done. Well, that’s the idea.
A rookie may not have all the information that he/she needs in order to complete the deliverable. They don’t usually interact with the clients directly. So all they have, are pieces of information. So when a rookie works off of the incomplete information, chances are they will not get the work done. To avoid such situation, there should be a mechanism for intermittent feedback from the seniors, so that the mistakes can be corrected in time.This also helps to reduce the reworking which eats up a lot of time of the rookies and working long hours so as to not miss the deadlines.
You can read about the struggles of corporate lawyers here.
Corporate lawyers make good money, there is no doubt about that. I know of some corporate lawyers who manage to pursue their interests like sports, social life along with their personal lives. But they are far and few.
But then why are people herding towards this field of legal profession? Is it overrated and overdone? Has it reached its saturation? Or are there more mountains to be climbed?
My colleague posed this question to the legal fraternity on LinkedIn, in order to get some direct insights from the lawyers who are working in the corporate law field. The responses were mostly positive. These respondents stated things ranging from “..it is a satisfying career” to “It is the legal eye of the modern business world” and “Not at all. A nation is built on its trade and corporate law enables trade.”
Mr. Hitesh Kumar Singh, Attorney, stated , “Maybe but young lawyers have to visualise the evolving law which shall be more glamorous and lucrative in near future in India also as I can see it by wonderful queries and discussion happening with my friends in tech legal field”
With such diverse fields of laws coming up, the need for corporate lawyers will intensify. There is a need for expert lawyers in these fields. One may purse cyber law course to understand cryptocurrencies, algorithm laws, online fantasy sports leagues, online defamation, privacy, blockchain technology, cyber security, etc.
Then, there are online company law courses for understanding the necessary regulatory compliances, basis of transactions, shares allotment, rights of shares/debenture holders, procuring approvals in case of mergers and acquisition, etc.
One of the most diverse view regarding the query, whether corporate law is overrated as a career choice, came from a law candidate. Mr. Kartik Dey stated that, “Wouldn’t have been in the early 2000’s. But I think the sheer number of people entering it has created a steep saturation, and a bottleneck effect…”. He further adds, “… Also, with the advent of big data and mechanisation, its nebulous for someone just starting out in the legal field to enter corporate, because 15 years down the line, it is highly likely that the very culture of firms and corporate work would change, with smaller firm sizes churning out higher productivity and efficiency in things like due diligence, transactional law, private equity etc using AI and machine learning.”
So, the answers to my query has been an eye-opener. The demand and supply of corporate lawyers is not the issue. There are plenty of corporate jobs for the corporate lawyers out there. The real issue are the bottleneck situation in certain sectors which pays well. You’ll find more lawyers heading towards M&A teams, banking and finance teams, general corporate teams, etc. This askew the demand and supply situation. This also makes the longevity of the corporate lawyers at risk, because there are more lawyers in line to take up their place.
In order to be more prepared to be part of the field, lawyers need to up the ante. They need to be better prepared with the theoretical knowledge of the laws and their practical application. This requires a strong foundation of company laws along with the knowledge of the specialised domain like M&A, cyber laws, labour laws, etc.
It is not that corporate law is an overrated career. It seems that it has been overdone in certain fields like M&A, general corporate just because the supply of lawyers in this field is a lot. However, these very lawyers are still in demand in a developing country, where the businesses are thriving. With the advent of new corporate law fields (see above list), there will be an excess demand of skilled corporate lawyers.
Corporate law will remain one of the most lucrative career options for a long time to come. Trade won’t stop, businesses will continue running and so will transactions.