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James Wood, a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, explain what corporate law involves.

Corporate law: area of practice

A drive to be involved in the cut and thrust of doing deals is needed, explains James Wood – partner at Sidley Austin LLP.

The best bits of the job are the intellectual stimulation and helping clients achieve a goal.

Corporate lawyers advise clients on buying and selling companies and businesses, joint ventures and stock market listings (IPOs) and other transactions.

Lawyers work on one large or three to four smaller transactions at a time. Deals can be quite short: four to six weeks, but can take longer.

Typical transactions in corporate law

During a merger or acquisition for instance, there will be an initial process involving due diligence, where the buyer’s lawyers investigate the target business. This is followed by preparation and negotiation of the definitive agreements, a period getting regulatory approvals and then closing the transactions.

On a small to medium-sized transaction, trainees can expect to be in a team with one partner, and one or two associates. Experts from other practice areas in the firm are consulted if needed, such as tax, employment, competition and anti-trust, and regulatory lawyers (particularly if the business involved is regulated such as life sciences or financial services). Occasionally, colleagues from the disputes department get involved and, depending on how the client is financing the transaction, lawyers in the banking and finance teams. Communication and organisational skills are fundamental to managing this level of teamwork.

Corporate clients can be from any sector (at my firm, we have a large number of clients in the life sciences, financial services, technology and private equity sectors). Lawyers also advise those who finance corporate deals, such as private equity and hedge funds and investment banks.

The highs and lows of being a corporate solicitor

The best bits of the job are the intellectual stimulation and helping clients achieve a goal – working out the best way to structure a deal to meet their objectives. Working on a deal that appears on the front page of the Financial Times is satisfying, as is seeing your client’s name on the high street.

The downside is the working hours. Any job in the City can involve long hours and transactional work, by its nature, involves peaks and troughs in workload. When working hard on transactions, our trainees can expect to work 60 or 70 hours a week or more. When less busy, we encourage them to get away to see family and friends.

Late nights are regular but all-nighters are not: I’ve averaged no more than one all-nighter a year over the last 29 years. Expect some weekend working, however.

The responsibilities that trainees can expect in a corporate law seat

Firms try to give trainees as much responsibility and meaningful work as they can to ensure that they are learning. Trainees should expect to be operating outside their comfort zone. Inevitably, there is some routine or mundane work and project management. However, trainees are also involved in drafting simpler documents, such as board minutes, confidentiality agreements and sometimes first drafts of more complex documents.

What new developments should aspiring solicitors interested in corporate law be aware of?

GDPR, introduced in 2018, has affected all companies and made our specialists in that area very busy. A lot of legal tech (eg artificial intelligence, machine learning, document-review software to help with due diligence) has had a practical day-to-day effect on the way we do our deals. Finally, the value of data is now becoming clear to all of our clients – not just tech clients.

Skills that successful corporate solicitors need

  • Attention to detail.
  • Organisational skills and the ability to prioritise.
  • Teamwork and communication.
  • A healthy dose of common sense.
  • An interest in business and being involved in the cut and thrust of doing deals.
  • Grit, drive and determination – a willingness to roll up your sleeves.

Types of law practised in corporate law

  • Company.
  • Securities.
  • Contract.
  • Also touch on: tort, property, tax, employment, and health and safety.

JAMES WOOD is a partner in the corporate department at SIDLEY AUSTIN LLP. He graduated with degrees in law and economics from Adelaide University.

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