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Corporate Law vs. Litigation Practice Area

published December 24, 2021

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Choosing your practice area as an attorney is an important task that can decide your future in the legal profession. Many attorneys face the decision of whether to become a corporate lawyer or go into litigation, as those are two of the most prominent and popular legal job streams.
 

Both of these practice areas have their pros but also numerous cons. Therefore, attorneys and law students need to be aware of them before deciding to affect their future legal careers. Although changing practice areas is always a choice, it does not always end successfully for the attorney who may have already lost a lot of time gaining experience in a different place. Getting up to speed is not always possible, so it is better to figure out what you want to do as early as possible.


This article describes the advantages and disadvantages of choosing corporate (or somewhat transactional) law versus becoming a litigator. This article aims to help you make an informed decision and set you up for a long, successful, and fulfilling career.
 

Corporate Law as a Practice Area


Advantages of Being a Corporate Lawyer


Corporate Lawyers Are Extremely In-Demand When Economy Is Doing Well

Corporate law is entirely connected with the state of the economy, so when the financial market is doing well, corporate lawyers are doing great. Even if they do not come from the best law schools, they can get positions all over the country in significant law firms. During the economic upturn at the beginning of the new millennium, corporate attorneys from third-tier law schools got roles in the most prestigious New York law firms.

Corporate attorneys who have worked in small family law firms in small markets can get prestigious law firms in the top legal markets. During times of a strong economy, they can sometimes triple their salary overnight.

Specialized corporate attorneys are usually in an even better position. If a corporate lawyer has a niche specialization, they can move states and legal markets, often without passing the bar in that particular market.

That is not the case for litigators. It is tough for them to move markets without having the bar exam in the state, especially in markets like Silicon Valley or Los Angeles. Not passing the California bar will probably stand in your way to becoming a litigator in those markets. Litigation is based on understanding the local rules, filing requirements, and state laws, so passing the corresponding state bar is essential. It is not as crucial with corporate law, and you can usually practice law while trying to pass the bar.

Suppose your dream as a corporate attorney is to work in a major law firm. In that case, it can be pretty easy during a period of a strong economy, even without stellar credentials, which is not the case in litigation.
 

Corporate Attorneys With a Niche Specialization Can Feel Secure About Their Job


Corporate law allows for relatively narrow specializations. If your specialization is incredibly niche, it is perfectly possible to become one of only a handful of experts in your topic globally, which means you will always have a job as long there is at least some work in it. Securitization specializations are particularly susceptible to this trend. It is possible to specialize even in the securitization of airbases, a niche in you probably will not have a lot of competition.
 

Corporate Lawyers Can Easily Generate a Lot of Business


Corporate lawyers tend to have one significant advantage over litigators - they usually work very closely with their clients and can find valuable information they can transfer to business. Corporate attorneys can generally help the companies for which they work with many small legal tasks and give them legal advice on several matters. It is also not uncommon for corporate attorneys to hear their clients say that they will need an expert in employment law or tax law who can help them with an upcoming issue they are dealing with. An intelligent attorney will take this information and refer someone from their law firm. This way, they will usually get credit for generating business for the firm, and their client will be happy that they did not have to spend money and time finding attorneys they need. On the other hand, litigators usually only work with clients when there is an active lawsuit, which means they do not know about other legal issues their clients might have.
 

Experience Is More Valued Than the Quality of Credentials in Corporate Law


When you become a litigator, law firms usually look at things like the quality of law school you went to, your grades and rank in your class, whether you have been on law review, what type of clerkship you had, etc. It is logical for others to assume that better school and better training mean you can understand complex issues quicker, can write up spotless papers, and will be able to argue in court eloquently. That is not true in corporate law.

Corporate lawyers usually need skills that cannot be taught in school or through a clerkship but rather get better with experience. That is why law firms, even the largest ones, look mainly at experience when hiring corporate attorneys. Of course, they will look at an attorney's credentials and be intrigued by a top-ranking law school. However, it is generally less important than the experience they have gained in their previous law firms.
 

Attorneys Can Go In-House From Corporate Law Easily


Unlike litigation, corporate law is ideal if you want to transition in-house later! Most of the positions for in-house counsel are usually for corporate lawyers, so if this is something you are thinking about for your future, corporate law is the way to go.

Litigation is a much more complex practice area for transitioning to in-house. When companies get sued, they generally hire a law firm to defend them. These issues are rarely tackled in-house, so litigators usually have a more challenging time finding in-house positions than corporate attorneys.
 

There Are Fewer Corporate Attorneys Than Litigators


Corporate law is in itself already much more specialized than litigation. You do not need special training in a law firm to become a litigator, law school is usually enough to go into litigation, so there are litigators behind every corner. Even the smallest town in the country has at least one litigator, but that is not true for corporate attorneys. Corporate law is, therefore, more marketable, and there is less competition there.
 

Corporate Lawyers Are Very Involved in the Companies' Decision-Making


As I already mentioned, corporate lawyers get to work quite closely with the companies they represent. And because they know the companies so well, they are often asked to help make important decisions related to running the company. Many leaderships will seek out the advice of their corporate lawyer to make the best business decisions, which means that these attorneys gain invaluable business experience and strategic decision-making. Litigators usually do not have these kinds of opportunities, as they generally only contact a company after it has made a mistake.
 

Disadvantages of Being a Corporate Lawyer

 

Corporate Law Takes a Huge Hit When the Economy Is Not Doing Well

The economy goes in cycles. Just as there are times when it does very well, it also slows down significantly or even crashes. And because corporate law is very dependent on the state of the financial market, when the economy starts to slow down, corporate law becomes one of the worst practice areas to be in.

Corporate attorneys get let go from every law firm regardless of their years of experience or how long they have been with the firm. Only partners are usually saved; everyone else is forced to start looking for a new job.

When the economy is doing poorly, not even corporate attorneys with the most prestigious law firms on their resumes are safe. I have seen corporate lawyers from the most prestigious law firms in New York struggle to find work in their practice area during the recessions in 2001 and 2008. Many have lost not only their careers but also their homes and had to file for bankruptcy.

These economic crashes are unfortunately unavoidable, and with them comes the lousy state of corporate law. It is something you have to keep in mind if you want to go into this practice area.
 

Not All Specializations Are Stable and Can Cease To Exist Suddenly


Some specializations can get such a niche that a simple change to a regulation or law can eradicate the whole field. Although it does not happen every day, I have seen it happen. Attorneys with years of success lose their job overnight because firms no longer have work for them.
 

Corporate Law Come With Long Hours and Can Easily Lead to Burnout


When considering becoming a corporate attorney, another thing to keep in mind is that the work is often time-sensitive and comes in a "rush." When the practice area is booming, there is an endless stream of work. Doing the job might require the attorney to work over 100 hours a week for months, and because a lot of the work can be monotonous, it is not surprising that burnout is common among corporate attorneys. Corporate law can also be complicated sometimes, so not everyone can handle it.
 

Corporate Law Is Male-Dominated Practice Area


Corporate law has always been a practice area with significantly more male attorneys than female ones. There have been more female attorneys coming into the site; however, the imbalance is still there. So, if this is something that would pose a problem to you, corporate law might not be the right choice in your legal career.
 

Litigation as a Practice Area


Advantages of Becoming a Litigator


Bad Economy Does Not Affect the Employment of Litigators


Unlike corporate law, litigation is not dependent on the state of the economy and financial markets. That means that even in times of recessions or a slow economy, litigators generally have enough work. Sometimes even more than when the economy is good. The reason for it is that when the economy gets bad and everyone starts losing money, many people start suing companies or people they think owe them money to even out their losses. Lawsuits also often take years to finalize, and this process continues even when the economic situation changes.
 

You Can Find More Litigation Positions Everywhere


Litigation is a general practice area needed in all corners of the world, so there are more litigation positions than corporate positions. You can find a litigation position in any city or town in the country. You could live wherever you wanted, and you would be able to find jobs for litigators there.

If you want to work in a large law firm in a huge legal market, you can. Corporate attorneys do not have this luxury of choice because corporate practice is generally done in large law firms only. On the other hand, if you prefer a suburban town and a family law firm where the pace is not so high, litigation is a great practice area for that.
 

The Transition From Litigation to Government Is Quite Easy


It is much easier to go into the government if you are a litigator rather than a corporate lawyer. There are many government positions on different levels, such as being a judge, prosecutor, or US attorney, which can be done as a litigator. There are judges and prosecutors in every city, as well as those in the federal government. The positions are almost endless. These options are not there for corporate attorneys.
 

Litigators Can Easily Set Up Their Practice


Litigation is a much better practice area if you start your law firm or solo practice. There are litigation matters in every city and town in our country, so even solo practitioners and small law firms can find clients.

For corporate lawyers, on the other hand, it is not as easy to start on their own. Corporate legal issues usually require a more prominent law firm's power and resources. They could not be sufficiently done by a solo lawyer or a small law firm with three people.
 

Some Litigation Lawyers Earn Huge Amounts of Money


Everyone is motivated by something else, but if one of your motivating factors is money, litigation is a great practice area to go in. Litigators often get paid through contingency fees to earn more money than they ever dreamt of in significant cases.
 

Disadvantages of Becoming a Litigator


The Quality of Your Credentials Decides Your Fate in Litigation


An attorney's background is critical in the litigation practice area. To get to the top law firms as a litigator, you have to have the top law schools on your resume, and your academic results and ranking better also be among the best. Attorneys from lower-tier law schools usually do not stand a chance to become litigators in prestigious firms unless they have ranked at the top of their class, if ever.

This is not the case in corporate law. Experience and the state of the financial markets usually decide whether corporate attorneys can move to a more prestigious law firm. In my legal recruiting company, BCG Attorney Search, I have seen corporate lawyers move to consistently more prestigious firms every few years because the economy allowed it. This is not something you often see in litigation unless the attorney has the best credentials possible. As years go by, litigators often move to less prestigious law firms.
 

Generating Business Is Difficult for Litigators


As I already mentioned in this article, litigators can have a hard time generating business compared to corporate attorneys. Litigators are only in contact with their clients when involved in a lawsuit, and such a situation is rarely suited for generating business. They do not collaborate with the clients so closely and often, which means that their professional relationship is usually not as close.
 

Becoming In-House Attorney Can Be Difficult for Litigators


In-house positions tend to be overwhelmingly suited for attorneys doing transactional law, such as corporate law. Litigators can have a hard time going in-house because litigation matters are usually handled with an outside law firm rather than in-house counsel.
 

There Is a Huge Competition in Litigation


There are a lot of litigators in our country. Even in the smallest towns, you could probably find several litigators, so the bigger cities have hundreds of them. Being a litigator is not as marketable as being a corporate attorney or working in environmental or commercial law. When a litigation attorney does not perform well enough or has too many requirements, a line of other litigators would be happy to take the job.
 

Relocating to a Different State Is Not Easy in Litigation


Litigation is very dependent on local state laws, rules, and traditions. Litigators also have to go to court and sign papers, such as pleadings or motions, so relocating is difficult if an attorney has not passed the bar in that particular state. Even with the best credentials on your resume, it isn't easy to do your job without passing the bar exam as a litigator. And because there are litigators everywhere, law firms have no reason to risk hiring someone from out of state if they are not already established in the firm's condition.
 

Conclusions


Both litigation and corporate law have advantages and disadvantages, and it is hard to generalize which practice area is better. However, everyone has a natural talent and inclination to one or the other. People who are good with numbers and like maths, economics, and science are more suited for corporate law. In contrast, people excited about writing, reading, and languages have a natural talent for litigation. It is never a good idea to go against your natural inclination, so choose your practice area based on where you instinctively feel at home.

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