Commercial law: area of practice
Partners in commercial law bring in deals and supervise them; the document-intensive work is led by associate solicitors.
As a partner, I work on up to ten transactions at any one time; trainee solicitors have fewer ongoing deals but are more immersed.
Commercial law is a broad term covering anything that City law firms do. Commercial lawyers handle a broad range of corporate deals. Clients of the firm include banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity funds, property companies, governments and governmental agencies.
I specialise in financing commercial real estate through loans and capital markets. As a partner, I have up to ten transactions at different stages on the go at any one time; trainees have fewer ongoing deals but are more immersed.
Deals, teams and working hours in this area of legal practice
A typical deal lasts between one and six months. A client usually comes to us when they are ready for a transaction to be documented, eg drafting loan agreements. The firm looks at the structure of the deal and progresses documentation. We send drafted documents to the lawyers on the other side and then negotiate on any issues they come back with. The aim is to reach the point where both sides agree to the terms and documents.
A core team is made up of a partner, a senior associate, a junior associate and a trainee, with colleagues called in from other departments, such as tax, or overseas offices in the case of cross-border transactions when needed.
This area of practice is mostly office based, with a lot of work done over the phone or at client meetings in London or, occasionally, in Europe. My colleagues working in emerging markets have travelled internationally more regularly.
The nature of transactional work means that commercial lawyers are extremely busy with some quieter periods. At the height of busy transactions, lawyers stay late into the night but, unlike New York and Asia, London generally has less of a client weekend-working culture. Partners tend to have a different workload than the associates in the team: they take the lead in bringing in deals and supervising them, whereas the document-intensive work is led by associates. I work from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm, with some evening and weekend work from home.
How recession-proof is commercial law?
The economy has a big impact on how law firms’ clients behave and how deals are financed. There tends to be more insolvency work during a recession.
There is a lot of variety in commercial law; the economy evolves and the clients change. Since the financial crisis, banks have been more highly regulated and are bound by capital constraints. As a result, the client base has changed from a mainly bank market (pre-financial crisis) to a broad range of alternative lenders (post-financial crisis). Change is good for law firms: it requires innovation and advising on difficult questions.
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What sort of work should a trainee solicitor expect?
Trainees may create first drafts of documents, prepare emails of advice to clients, join in calls and meetings with other lawyers, and help manage the transaction process. This is a transactional area of practice that suits those who think they would enjoy working on a deal and the sense of achievement that comes with closing it.
Types of law practised
- Financial regulation.
Good commercial law solicitors have...
- Good communication skills.
- Common sense.
- The ability to distil academic legal concepts into solutions clients can understand.
- The desire to work with clients and lawyers on the other side.
EMMA MATEBALAVU is a partner in the finance group at CLIFFORD CHANCE. She graduated with a degree in law and French law from Oxford University.