“Business law” covers a broad variety of activities, from forming a new venture for a group of entrepreneurs to negotiating the agreements that arise during the life of a business enterprise. Business agreements range from significant changes to the business, like mergers and acquisitions, to agreements in the “ordinary course” of selling products and services. Business lawyers also provide advice over a wide range of subjects, from counseling business clients on corporate governance, litigation risk and regulatory compliance matters, to helping clients disclose information to investors and regulators. Some business lawyers become experts in a particular area of substantive law, such as VENTURE CAPITAL, FINANCE: CAPITAL MARKETS, MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS, FINANCE: BANKING & BANKRUPTCY, COMMERCIAL TRANSACTIONS/ LICENSING, AND TAX. Some even pursue very specialized practices, like ART LAW, ANTITRUST/TRADE REGULATION, EMPLOYEE BENEFITS, ESTATE PLANNING and SPORTS, MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT LAW. On the other hand, many business lawyers are more generalists, handling a broad range of business matters (see GENERAL BUSINESS).
Business lawyers must have knowledge of statutory law and regulations passed by government agencies to help their clients achieve their goals within the bounds of the law. To structure a business transaction, a business lawyer may need to research aspects of contract law, tax law, accounting, securities law, bankruptcy, intellectual property rights, licensing, zoning laws, or other regulations. Perhaps more often, the lawyer will try to help a client create value by structuring a transaction to accomplish specific goals. Therefore, an understanding of incentives and the parties’ financial goals is at least as important as an understanding of the law. In contrast to the adversarial nature of trial law, business law is more team-oriented. The corporate counsels for both sides of a transaction are not strict competitors; together they seek a common ground for their clients. Facilitating the business process requires insight into the client’s needs, selective expertise, flexibility and most of all, a service mentality. Business law requires an incisive mind and excellent communication skills, both written and oral. Through the negotiation process, lawyers constantly write and revise the legal documents which will bind the parties to certain terms for the transaction.
The designation of “business lawyer” suggests a lawyer who focuses on developing agreements between parties desiring some current or future collaboration, in contrast to the work of a litigation attorney who is typically brought into a dispute about past events between parties who have become confrontational. There are litigators, however, who specialize in general business litigation. Lawyers engaged in litigation over business matters must have developed a specific skill set in addition to the knowledge base required by the business lawyer, whose work is primarily outside the courtroom. Whether the client’s concern is a dispute or a desire to collaborate, however, it is necessary to know the substantive law that applies.
© 2013 Stanford University, all rights reserved. This tool is intended for personal use only. Without the express written permission of Stanford Law School, the content in this tool may not be copied for any purpose, including non-commercial purposes. Permission requests to copy the content of this tool should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.