There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to becoming a corporate lawyer. Once you're licensed and certified to work as a lawyer, you can either work for a law firm that specializes in corporate work or you can work directly for a corporation as an in-house counsel.
Getting into Law School
To practice law, you must be a licensed lawyer. To be a licensed lawyer, you must have a higher degree from an accredited law school and have passed a bar exam for your state.
To obtain a law degree, applicants must have a bachelor's degree. Many law school students come from diverse educational backgrounds--but for those interested in corporate law, consider an undergraduate major in business or economics.
In addition to an undergraduate degree, applicants must take an entry exam called the LSAT. Your LSAT score, in addition to your undergraduate academic background, will determine your eligibility to enter a specific law school.
At Law School
In the first year of law school, students typically take required courses such as constitutional law, torts and contracts. In the next two years, while students don't choose a major, they can concentrate on an area of interest. If you know corporate law is your passion, take classes on corporate finance, corporate law and other subjects that are related to the corporate world. Also, students interested in corporate law can participate in student organizations that focus on business issues. Involvement with such organizations can show an individual's true passion and interest in a field, even outside of the classroom.
Depending on what law school you apply to, research if it offers a joint MBA/JD degree. This joint education will give you knowledge and experience in both the business and legal realm.
If there is a certain industry you'd like to enter, do extensive research on key players and trends. Read up on current events and understand how the law influences those industries. Keep current with respected research from Standard & Poors, McKinsey Quarterly and Hoovers, all of which provide in-depth analysis. Your legal background is the foundation for your work, but your knowledge of the industry will give you an edge during interviews and even insight into leaders, best practices and changes in the industry.
After Law School
After law school, lawyers must pass a bar exam to be licensed to actually practice law. Once a lawyer is licensed, she can seek employment at either a law firm or a corporation.
Many law firms have departments that focus exclusively on corporate matters. It's good to seek a mentor with experience in corporate law so you can familiarize yourself with what is expected from a corporate lawyer. Find out as much as possible about the field before you jump in.
A lawyer can be hired directly by a corporation to work as an in-house counsel. These roles tend to be less demanding than a law firm. Compensation tends to be lower as well. An in-house counsel deals with employees and business issues daily, whereas at a law firm a lawyer has less client interaction.
If you work in the corporate finance team at your law firm, at times law firms offer secondments. This occurs when a lawyer from a law firm is "lent" to work in-house at a corporation for a given time. This is an attractive option to get familiar with life as an in-house counsel without the commitment of a full-time job.
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