How to Become a Corporate Lawyer


Career Path Guide

A very effective route for becoming a corporate lawyer is to follow these general steps:


1. Earn an undergraduate degree in Business and have a great GPA

2. Determine if this profession is suited to your personality and professional interests

3. Take the LSAT and get an excellent score

4. Earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from an A.B.A. accredited law school and have a great GPA

5. Work as a student-at-law

6. Earn a junior lawyer position with a corporate law firm upon graduation

7. Advance into positions of greater responsibility and pay as you gain experience


Below, we've covered these steps in greater detail, as well as provided some information on what corporate lawyers do, what their 'typical' work environment is like, and what career advancement options they might have.



Education Needed to Become a Corporate Lawyer


To become a corporate lawyer in Canada, students must complete various stages of education:


Stage 1: The first stage involves completing 2 to 4 years of an undergraduate (bachelor's) degree program. Recommended areas of study for a career in corporate law include, but are not limited to:


• Business/Commerce

• Economics

• Political Science

• Philosophy


Stage 2: Students seeking admission to law school must also write the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is an aptitude test administered four times a year at a number of Canadian campuses.


Stage 3: The third stage is completion of a 3-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from an accredited law school. Admission to law school is based on the Faculty of Law's assessment of the applicant's academic record, LSAT score and general qualifications.


Stage 4: In order to become a licensed corporate lawyer, some provinces/territories may require students to work for one full year as a student-at-law. This is a form of apprenticeship wherein the student enters into an agreement with a licensed practitioner of the Bar, to be provided with practical training in both barrister's and solicitor's work. Students are often paid modest salaries in these positions.


Stage 5: To become licensed law practitioners, articling students must successfully complete the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education program. This practical program covers several aspects of the law, and is typically offered several times per year.


United States

The education for becoming a lawyer in the United States usually involves completion of an undergraduate degree, a good score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and completion of a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).


Earning a Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor’s degree is typically required for entry into law school. A degree in any field of study is acceptable in most cases, although a degree in business or commerce is most applicable to the work of a corporate lawyer.


Writing the LSAT: Almost all law schools, particularly those approved by the ABA, require applicants to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Law schools typically determine a student’s eligibility for entrance by taking into account their LSAT score, their undergraduate GPA, and general personal attributes.


Getting a Law Degree: A J.D. degree program includes courses such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, and legal writing. The final two years of law school allow students to choose courses based on their areas of interest. Students interested in becoming corporate lawyers should focus on courses on business law.





What Certification/Licensing Requirements Are There?

Licensing/Certification in the United States

To practice law in any state, a person must be admitted to the state’s bar under rules established by the jurisdiction’s highest court. 


The requirements vary by individual states and jurisdictions, although most require that applicants graduate from an ABA-accredited law school, pass one or more written bar exams, and be found by an admitting board to have the character to represent and advise others. Please visit your state bar’s website for more information on requirements specific to your state/region.


Please Note: Some factors that may disqualify an applicant from being admitted to the bar can include prior felony convictions, academic misconduct, or a history of substance abuse, among others.


Licensing/Certification in Canada

In Canada, you must be a registered member of your province’s Law Society to practice law in that province or call yourself a Lawyer. Registration typically requires:


• A Canadian common law degree

• 1 year of articling as a student-at-law, and

• Successful completion of the province’s Law Society Bar Admission Course (or similar - title may vary by province)


Please Note: As requirements can vary among provinces and territories, please visit your province/territory’s Law Society website for more information on the specific criteria needed to become eligible to practice law.



More About This Profession: What is a Corporate Lawyer?

A corporate lawyer is a legal professional that’s responsible for informing their clients of their legal rights concerning internal or external legal conflicts in the field of commerce. They may handle a variety of legal tasks for their employer or client, which may include corporate taxes, mergers and acquisitions, corporate structure issues, employment law, and government reporting.



What Does a Corporate Lawyer Do?

The specific job duties of corporate lawyer can vary quite a bit, and typically depend on factors such as the size of their employer or client, their level of responsibility, whether they are involved in corporate practice or litigation, and many others. Typically however, corporate lawyers are responsible for performing the following duties:


• Conferring with a client to obtain details surrounding the internal or external legal conflict

• Creating and proofreading legal documents

• Presenting facts in writing and verbally to their clients or others and argue on behalf of their clients

• Liaising with other members of legal team, including paralegals and legal assistants

• Reviewing internally distributed corporate legal documents on behalf of senior management

• Analyzing and reviewing cases in order to develop specific arguments

• Determining and defending a client’s legal position in court

• Drafting documents such as officer’s certificates, director’s resolutions, or other deal documents such as receipts or consents

• Defending a client’s rights those rights in court

• Overseeing the work of support staff, such as legal assistants and paralegals


Please Note: As a ‘junior’ lawyer, you would play more of a supporting role, which often involves doing a lot of research, due diligence (fact finding), contract review, and document drafting. 





What is the Work Environment Like for Corporate Lawyers?

Like other aspects of this career, the work environment can vary quite widely for corporate lawyers, typically depending on the size of their firm, and the amount of responsibility they have within that firm.


Hours of Work: Corporate lawyers typically work normal, weekday working hours, although they often spend many hours outside the normal working day (including evenings, weekends and holidays) drafting briefs, researching cases and generally keeping informed about new developments in the legal profession. 


Work Setting: Corporate lawyers typically spend most of their time in offices. However, some travel to attend meetings with clients at various locations, such as homes or places of business, and may have to attend court. Their work can involve attending a lot of meetings some days, and other days might be spent doing research and preparing drafts in isolation.


Working Conditions: The work of corporate lawyers can be very demanding and stressful, as details and deadlines are paramount in this profession. They may work closely with government officials and professionals such as accountants, economists and business executives, more so as they move up the ranks within their firm.



Is This a Good Career Choice for Me?

It’s not always about if you can; whether or not you should is of equal, if not greater importance. If the following traits, interests and attributes describe you, then you might be very well-suited for a career as a corporate lawyer:


• You have an excellent memory, and intellectual stamina

• You're interested in a career with excellent earning potential

• You have a high tolerance for confrontation and conflict

• You're willing to spend your workdays in business attire

• You’re prepared to assume the financial burden of law school

• You’ve determined that your interests truly lie in the daily practice of law

• You genuinely enjoy the idea of researching and understanding legal issues

• You have a genuine interest in learning about legal nuances and jurisdictional rules

• You're ready for the brunt of your work to be solo endeavours during the first few years of your career

• You’re not just pursuing law school and a legal career to prove your capabilities to yourself and your peers

• You’re comfortable, or at least able to present information to others, which can include clients, juries, judges, arbitrators, opposing counsel, witnesses, boards, and colleagues


Success Tip: Try to work either a secretary or a paralegal in a law firm before you enter law school. This will give you valuable insight into what the attorneys do on a day-to-day basis, and help you get a feel for what work in this field is like before committing to law school.



Who Creates Jobs for Corporate Lawyers?

Many corporate lawyers work for large law firms that practice many areas of law, while some work for firms that specialize in corporate law. Alternatively, some are directly employed by public and private organizations and work as "in-house counsel”, working as part of a team of in-house lawyers that each specialize in a different area of corporate law.


Please Note: Very few in-house attorneys are hired directly out of law school, they are typically only hired once they have years of experience working at a law firm.



Current Job Postings

Our job board below has a listing of corporate lawyer postings in your area of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia, when available:




What Career Advancement Opportunities Exist in This Field?

There are plenty of career advancement opportunities for corporate lawyers that show dedication and competence in their work, and the ability to bring in business for the firm (in some cases). For example, you might:


• Begin to work with clients directly, and receive more pay and increased responsibilities

• Become a senior partner in your law firm

• Be appointed to the Bench or to an administrative tribunals

• If working in government, you might advance to a position as a department head or diplomat

• Become an executive for the company that you’ve been in-house counsel for

• Combine your training in law with other professional training and switch careers (for example, in arbitration, mediation, real estate, business or political science)



What are Careers Similar to This One?

Listed below are careers that may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities as corporate lawyer':


Business Ethics Consultant

• Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

• Consumer Advocate

• Environmental Lawyer

• Judge

• Law Clerk

• Lawyer

• Legal Assistant

• Paralegal

• Patent Agent 



What Scholarships Are There for Aspiring Corporate Lawyers? 

The “Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career” section below lists fields of study that are relevant to becoming a corporate lawyer. You can search for relevant scholarships by finding those majors on our "Any Field of Study Scholarships” page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you qualify for, even if it's just because you meet 1 of the criteria, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Sources for This Career Guide

The following resources were used to gather information for this career path guide:


Occupations in Alberta:Lawyer.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Legal:Lawyers.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Salary & Compensation:Starting Salaries for Corporate Lawyers.” Jayne Thompson (July 1, 2018). Houston Chronicle website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Jobs in Education:Educational Requirements for a Corporate Lawyer.” Maureen Malone (n.d.). ACCA website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Articles:5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Becoming A Corporate Lawyer.” BigLaw Rebel (November 21, 2013). Business Insider website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.



Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career

We have career guides for over 60 university majors in our database. Below we've outlined those that are most relevant to this line of work. Click on the links to see what else you can do with these majors!


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