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Commercial law: area of practice

The willingness to understand what makes an individual business tick is important for commercial solicitors, explains Andrew Craig from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
Successful commercial lawyers have a deep understanding of how individual businesses operate.

Commercial lawyers handle a broad range of corporate deals or standalone transactions. They are responsible for drafting and negotiating the necessary contracts. An example of a larger transaction is the sale of assets such as systems, contracts, premises and staff. Commercial lawyers also create contracts for business operations such as the supply of goods and services, technology licensing and lease agreements.

The three stages of every job

A critical, distinctive feature of commercial law is the need to have a deep understanding of how individual businesses operate. Clients can range from domestic businesses to multinational corporations and global financial institutions.

There are typically three stages for each job: diligence, where you learn about the client’s needs and inner workings; drafting contracts; and negotiation, where the contract is redrafted and finalised to reflect the agreement the parties have reached.

In the early stages of transactions you may spend a couple of days each week visiting clients – if you work for an international firm you may be required to go overseas.

Commercial lawyers can be working on as many as five large transactions at any one time, alongside any number of smaller contracts. A complicated transaction may require a team of as many as 10 to 15 people working in different practice areas.

The hours are long – most days I am in the office for more than ten hours and stay on call for emails late into the evening. Hours spike at the time of a transaction signing or negotiation. Although all-night stints and weekend working are not a regular part of the job, there will be periods when you work through the night. One difficulty of the job is being unable to predict when you’ll be busy.

The best element of the job is the variety of work. The subject matter is varied because commercial law typically takes you across the whole field of industries and sectors. The diversity of work and interest that provides is by far one of the more compelling parts of the job.

How recession-proof is this area of law?

Legal departments in banks and companies are under pressure to reduce their costs and external spend on law firms, so there has been a movement of work to in-house teams. Businesses aim to complete routine commercial work by themselves or through a firm that can provide a satisfactory standard at a lower cost. However, the financial crisis has also thrown up complicated challenges where corporations and banks need law firms to help on tricky business separation jobs. Banks have required regulatory advice and companies have sold off assets.

The workload of a trainee solicitor

Some trainees still arrive thinking they will be photocopying or filing. Nothing of the sort – trainees are involved in research tasks such as looking into a particular question of law. They are asked to help organise information from clients on large deals. With large transactions lawyers work in multiple offices so there’s invariably a role for trainees. They can get to see negotiations play out and help to draft whatever’s been agreed.

Areas of law used by commercial solicitors

  • Contract law.
  • Intellectual property law.
  • Data protection law.
  • Employment law.
  • Corporate law.

A good commercial solicitor has…

  • A strong command of written English.
  • Confidence in speaking to clients and colleagues.
  • Good commercial awareness.
  • The willingness to understand what makes individual businesses tick.
  • Fearlessness when confronting something they haven’t done before.

Andrew Craig is a partner at the London office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. He completed bachelor of arts and bachelor of laws at the University of Sydney in Australia and graduated in 1997.