Becoming a Business Lawyer: Salary Info & Job Description

About this article
What are the pros and cons of a career as a business lawyer? Get real job descriptions and salary info to see if becoming a business lawyer is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Career as a Business Lawyer

A career as a business lawyer, or corporate attorney, means being responsible for providing legal advice to businesses. Keep reading for a balanced take on a career as a corporate attorney:

Pros of a Career as a Business Lawyer
Relatively high pay (the lifetime earnings of an average lawyer are about two times more than those of the average four-year college graduate)*
Comprehensive education (law school prepares students for a variety of careers outside of law as well)**
Career flexibility (corporate lawyers may wear many different professional hats throughout their careers)***
Entrepreneurial potential (about a quarter of all lawyers are self-employed)****

Cons of a Career as a Business Lawyer
Work burden (most lawyers work long hours on conducting research and completing paperwork)****
Lengthy formal training (lawyers usually need at least 7 years of formal training after high school)****
Moderate employment outlook (although demand for lawyers will continue, budget constraints in private and public sectors will affect the pay and availability of jobs)****
Nature of the work (the work of corporate lawyers often involves relatively unexciting tasks, such as reading contracts and advising business executives)****

Sources: *Georgetown Public Policy Institute, **The New York Times,** *Yale University,**** U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

A corporate attorney is responsible for dispensing legal advice to businesses on all kinds of matters, such as patents, contracts, labor agreements and regulatory measures. They're also required to research cases, draft contracts and develop diverse corporate procedures. The specific duties of corporate attorneys may vary depending on their employers and professional roles. They may be called on to manage budgets, ensure regulatory compliance, draft codes of conduct, litigate cases in court and facilitate corporate mergers.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national employment rate of attorneys was projected to grow by 10 percent through 2012-2022. This is slightly lower than the 11 percent average rate of growth for all other occupations during the same period. The somewhat tepid demand may be due to the budget constraints on both governments and private businesses. Lawyers' employment opportunities are usually dictated, in part, by economic cycles. With corporations responding to the economy by limiting discretionary litigation, these opportunities are expected to reduce. But the federal government is expected to pursue lawyers to both prosecute and defend cases.

Lawyer pay is affected by many factors. For instance, lawyers with their own firms are typically paid lower than their counterparts who are employed by larger law practices or who serve as in-house counsels for companies. In 2015, according to Payscale.com, the total compensation rates (bonuses, commissions and profit sharing included) for lawyers nationwide ranged from about $46,000 in the 10th percentile to about $150,000 in the 90th percentile. However, the total salaries of lawyers specializing in corporate law ranged from about $58,000 in the 10th percentile to about $180,000 in the 90th percentile.

Career Paths and Specializations

Corporate attorneys have a wide array of different avenues available to them in a range of different sectors. Commercial law is employed in many different circumstances, such as when an investment bank facilitates a merger and/or acquisition, when a large multinational corporation settles a labor dispute and when a private company goes public.

Typically, corporate lawyers begin their careers with law firms and then transition to working within private companies (what's often called 'in-house' employment). These companies may vary from small private companies to transitional companies seeking to go public to large, publicly traded companies.

Career Skills and Requirements

Corporate attorneys are required to hold a law degree from an accredited program. They're also required to pass a state licensing, or bar, examination. Many law schools offer specialized courses and/or programs in business/commercial law. Topics covered may include bankruptcy, banking, accounting, insurance, international trade, securities and anti-trust litigation. Along with specific knowledge in the legal aspects of certain areas of commerce, law school may also equip students with a wide range of analytical, communicative and rhetorical skills.

Useful Skills

You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These may include:

  • The ability to employ advanced problem-solving techniques to complex legal cases
  • The ability to write clearly and concisely
  • The ability to use inductive and deductive reasoning skills
  • The ability to negotiate with disputing parties
  • The ability to organize many different tasks and functions efficiently

Job Postings from Real Employers

A November 2012 job search conducted on Indeed.com revealed a variety of listings for corporate attorneys, also referred to as corporate counsels. Employers looked for licensed candidates with strong academic records and previous professional experience in the field to which the company belongs. Below are actual listings from this search:

  • A clinical research organization in Kentucky sought out a corporate attorney with at least a year of professional experience to join its team of legal counsel. The ideal candidate would also have at least a year of experience in areas such as biopharmaceuticals and medical devices.
  • An office product supplier in Illinois looked for a corporate attorney to handle issues such as regulatory compliance, risk assessment and labor disputes. The successful candidate would need to be located within the vicinity of the company's Lincolnshire location.
  • A healthcare company in Florida looked for a commercial attorney with at least 8 years of experience in the healthcare industry to join its legal team. Particular preference was given to attorneys with experience in handling issues related to Medicare and Medicaid.

How to Stand Out

An effective way to distinguish yourself as a corporate attorney from the competition may be to join the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA has a business law section for members who specialize in that field of law. Membership will provide you with up-to-date professional literature, an expansive network of professional contacts and a pathway to distinction among your fellow lawyers through joining committees and taking on leadership roles within the ABA. Membership is open to all licensed U.S. lawyers.

Other Careers to Consider

Defense Attorney

If you feel that the work of a corporate attorney is too insulated and want a career that allows you more access to regular people and/or that allows you to help people in need, you may consider becoming a criminal defense lawyer. Like corporate attorneys, criminal defense lawyers must also graduate from law school and obtain a state license. However, they're required to maintain contact with their clients either through visiting them in jail or meeting with them in the office.

Criminal attorneys may also represent people charged with crimes who have no money to purchase a lawyer themselves by becoming public defense attorneys or by signing up as private council conflict attorneys. For an idea of their salary ranges, see the section on salary information above.

Paralegal

If the educational requirements for becoming a corporate attorney are too burdensome, you may consider a career as a paralegal or legal assistant. These professionals do many responsibilities with lawyers, such as conducting legal research, obtain affidavits and prepare for trials. Unlike corporate attorneys, however, paralegals typically only need an associate's degree. In addition, they aren't required to obtain a license. In 2011, according to the BLS, the mean annual wage of paralegals legal assistants nationwide was about $50,000.

Popular Schools

  • Campus and Online Programs
    1. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science - Film Production
      • MS - Entertainment Business (Campus)
      • MS - Game Design (Campus)
      • M.S. - Entertainment Business
      • M.S. - New Media Journalism
      • Master of Fine Arts - Creative Writing
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Sportscasting (Campus)
      • Bachelor of Science - Software Development
      • BS - Creative Writing for Entertainment (Campus)
      • BS - Film (Campus)
      • BS - Media Communications (Campus)
      • BS - Computer Animation (Campus)
  • Online Programs Available
    2. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
      • Master of Arts in Economics
      • Master of Public Administration and Policy
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Human Resource Analytics and Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Liberty University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor Of Education - Leadership
      • Doctor of Education - Curriculum and Instruction
      • DBA: Healthcare Management
      • DBA: Marketing
      • DBA: Project Management
      • DBA: Human Resources
    Master's
      • MA: Communication
      • MA: Professional Counseling
      • Master of Arts in Public Policy - Public Administration
      • MA: Applied Psychology: Developmental Psychology
      • MA: Applied Psychology: Industrial Organizational Psychology
      • MA: Human Services Counseling: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Trident University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Business Administration (Ph.D.)
      • Health Sciences (Ph.D.)
      • Doctor of Business Administration
      • Educational Leadership (Ed. D.)
      • Educational Leadership (Ph.D.)
    Bachelor's
      • Computer Sciences (BSCS)
      • Business Administration (BSBA)
      • Human Resources Management (BSHRM)
      • Homeland Security (BSHLS)
      • Information Technology Management (BSITM)
      • Leadership (BSL)
    Associate's
      • Professional Studies (ASPS)
    Certificate
      • CMCB - Certificate in Medical Coding and Billing
  • Online Programs Available
    5. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
      • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
      • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
      • MSHS Clinical Operations & Healthcare Management
      • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
    Bachelor's
      • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
      • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • BSHS in Biomedical Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Independence University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Information Systems (MS)
      • Nursing Administration (MS)
      • Nursing Education (MS)
    Bachelor's
      • Accounting (BS)
      • Business Administration (BS)
      • Business Administration - Human Resources Emphasis (BS)
      • Business Administration - Marketing Emphasis (BS)
      • Business Administration - Technology Emphasis (BS)
      • Health Services Management (BS)
    Associate's
      • Medical Assisting (AOS)
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership
    Master's
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
      • M.A. in Reading with an Emphasis in Secondary Education
      • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
      • M.Ed. in Special Education: Cross-Categorical
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
      • BS in Early Childhood
      • BS in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major)
      • B.S. in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education
      • B.S. in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in Christian Education
      • Bachelor of Arts in History for Secondary Education (ITL)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
      • Master: Legal Studies
      • MS in Psychology
      • Master of Public Health
      • MBA: Human Resources
      • MBA: Health Care Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Liberal Studies
      • Bachelor of Business Admin
      • BSBA - Investment
      • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
      • Bachelor: Nutrition Science
      • Accelerated MS in Finance Option
    Associate's
      • AAS in Legal Support and Services
      • AASBA in Food/Hotel Management
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • Associate: Accounting
      • AASBA -Entrepreneurship
      • AAS in Information Technology - Multiplatform Software Development
    Certificate
      • Medical Assisting Certificate
      • Human Services Certificates in Child and Family Services
      • Graduate Certificate in Addictions
      • Graduate Certificate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
      • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate
      • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Walden University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Education (EdD) - Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment
      • PhD in Criminal Justice - General
      • PhD in Criminal Justice - Online Teaching in Higher Education
      • PhD in Education - Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment & Evaluation
      • PhD in Education - Learning, Instruction & Innovation
      • PhD in Psychology - Teaching
    Master's
      • MS in Education - Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment (Grades K-12)
      • MS in Education - Self-Designed
      • MS in Education - Elementary Reading & Literacy (Grades PreK-6)
      • MS in Education - Elementary Reading & Mathematics (Grades K-6)
      • MS in Education - Mathematics & Science (Grades K-8)
      • MS in Education - Mathematics (Grades 5-8)
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice in Visionary Leadership
    Master's
      • Criminal Justice, M.S.
      • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Advanced Accounting
      • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Health Care Administration
      • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Leadership
      • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Project Management
      • Curriculum and Instruction, M.A. - Emphasis in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse
    Bachelor's
      • Psychology, B.S.
      • B.S. Applied Psychology: Biblical Studies
      • B.S. Accountancy
      • B.S. Business: International Business
    Associate's
      • Criminal Justice, A.S.
      • Psychology, A.S.
      • Communication Studies, A.A.
      • Business Administration, A.S.
      • Health Care Administration, A.S.
      • Human Resource Management, A.S.

Featured Schools

Full Sail University

  • Master of Science - Film Production
  • MS - Entertainment Business (Campus)
  • BS - Sportscasting (Campus)
  • Bachelor of Science - Software Development

What is your highest level of education?

American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
  • Master of Arts in Economics

What is your highest level of education?

Liberty University

  • Doctor Of Education - Leadership
  • Doctor of Education - Curriculum and Instruction
  • MA: Communication
  • MA: Professional Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

Trident University

  • Business Administration (Ph.D.)
  • Computer Sciences (BSCS)
  • Professional Studies (ASPS)
  • CMCB - Certificate in Medical Coding and Billing

What is your highest level of education completed?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
  • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Independence University

  • Information Systems (MS)
  • Accounting (BS)
  • Medical Assisting (AOS)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership
  • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
  • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University Global

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
  • Bachelor: Liberal Studies
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Medical Assisting Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?