The practice of business law covers a broad area of topics, and those with a business law degree, or a paralegal degree in business law, can choose to work in contracts, tax, intellectual property, real property, labor and employment, international business, banking, transportation, energy and more.
What Is Business Law?
Business law is sometimes referred to as commercial or mercantile law. It refers to laws that deal with the transactions and dealings between people and commercial interests and matters.
There are two major types of business law: the regulation of commercial organizations through partnership laws. The other is regulation of commercial transactions through contract laws. Many aspects of business law deals with trying to prevent legal problems that can damage the business.
Major aspects of business law include the following:
- Forming a business. Starting a new business begins in many cases with filing paperwork that makes the company exist in the eyes of the federal and state governments. Business attorneys help the company to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each type of business entity when starting the business.
- Businesses always need legal advice to help them to understand how to legally hire and dismiss employees; they also need to know how to deal with disputes and discipline, and what they need to offer for pay and benefits within the law.
- Business law and immigration often interrelate. Businesses may need employees from other nations, and they need to know how to deal with federal immigration laws.
- Consumer good sales. Buying and selling can be more complex than one might think. There are many state, federal and local regulations that must be considered about how products are made and how they can be sold. The Uniform Commercial Code or UCC is one of the most important aspects that business lawyers must contend with.
- Contract negotiations and drafting. Attorneys in business law need to understand contract law from the common law and statutes angle, and also must appreciate the various nuances that can affect contract enforcement.
- Intellectual property. When a company invents a new product, the company must be able to protect the ability to profit from the invention. Business law attorneys need to have a good understanding of both intellectual property and copyright law.
- Experts in business law help companies to comply with all tax requirements and to do what they can to minimize their tax burden.
To practice as an attorney in business law or in any field in the US, you must have your Juris Doctorate degree or JD. However, to have a better understanding how business and law intersect, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in legal studies or a master’s of laws degree. Or, you can earn a paralegal degree and specialize on business law.
As the US economy continues to get stronger with low unemployment, better economic growth and a strong housing market, more businesses are being created and expanding every day. As the business environment gets stronger, more companies will need the services of attorneys and experts in business law.
Generally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS reports job demand for attorneys will grow by 8% by 2016, which is about as fast as average. It is expected that higher demand for legal expertise will drive demand for attorneys in business law and related areas.
It is true that large law firms will continue to be among the biggest employers of business lawyers and experts, but some big companies are continuing to increase their in house legal departments to reduce costs. So, there could be a higher demand for business attorneys in house in large and medium sized companies, rather than at law firms.
Another possible path for those with a business law degree is a paralegal or legal assistant. This profession will grow by a healthy 15% through 2026, which is much faster than average. As law firms and businesses want to increase the efficiency of their legal services and cut costs, they will likely hire more paralegals and legal assistants to handle at least some of the tasks that attorneys do. Paralegals have a lower hourly billing rate and are more affordable. They can often do many of the same jobs that entry level attorneys do.
BLS reports there are 792,500 attorney jobs in the United States as of 2016. The largest employers of attorneys were:
- Legal services: 48%
- Self employed: 20%
- Local government: 7%
- State government: 6%
- Federal government: 5%
Paralegals and legal assistants held 285,500 jobs in 2016, with the largest employers of these professionals as follows:
- Legal services: 73%
- Federal government: 5%
- Local government: 5%
- Finance and insurance: 3%
- State government: 3%
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the median wage for attorneys overall was $119,000 in 2017. The top 10% earned more than $208,000 per year. Payscale.com reports a corporate attorney earns an average base pay of $133,000.
BLS reports the median salary for paralegals and legal assistants in business law is $50,400 as of 2017. The top 10% earned more than $80,000 per year. Payscale.com reports a corporate paralegal earns an average salary of $64,700 per year.
Some of the top corporate and business law firms in the US today are:
- Sullivan & Cromwell
- Akerman LLP
- Alston & Bird
- Arnold & Porter
- Baker & Hostetler
- Baker Botts
- Baker McKenzie
To get a start in business law, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in business law or legal studies. This will provide you with the basic knowledge and skills in business and law to start your career. A bachelor’s degree in legal studies can take as long as four years to complete, but you can finish it in two years if you already have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. Some of the topics you might cover in this type of bachelor’s program are negotiations, legal research, political science, corporate law, torts and legal analysis and writing.
To be a practicing attorney, whether it is in business law or another field, you must earn your Juris Doctorate or JD. This is a professional degree that takes two or three years to complete.
Another option if you want to focus on business law but do not want to earn your JD is the Master of Laws degree, which can be either an MA or MS. This type of master’s degree is not a law degree and does not allow you to practice law. It is well suited for the business professional who wants to have more legal savvy for their job or for running their own company.
Also, at some universities, such as the University of California Davis School of Law, you can transfer from the master of laws program to the JD program if you choose. The master of laws degree also can be a suitable background for eventually earning your JD.
Topics in a Master of Laws program may include:
- Antitrust and regulation
- Bankruptcy law
- Investment law
- Community and economic development
- Institutional economics
Some of the typical admission requirements for a master of laws degree may include:
- Undergraduate degree in business or related degree
- Legal coursework at the bachelor’s level
- GPA 3.0 or higher
- GRE test scores may be required
- At least two years of related work experience
- Writing samples
Whether you wish to earn a bachelor’s in legal studies, business law, a master of law degree or a JD degree in business law, higher education is getting more expensive than ever. But you can do a lot to reduce the cost of your business law education by seeking out grants and scholarships, such as these:
- Anheuser-Busch NAPABA Law Foundation Presidential Scholarships: $7500
- George A. Strait Minority Scholarships: Varies
- GRCF Warner Norcross & Judd Law Scholarship: $5000
- Law Student Assistance Fund: $3500
- Lim, Ruger & Kim Scholarship: $2500
- Barbara Odom-Wesley Spirit of Achievement Scholarship: $2000
- Nellie Martin Caman Scholarship Fund: $2000
- Two Ten Higher Education Scholarship: $12,000
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations Scholarships: $2000 to $3000
- Jean H. Proffitt Scholarship Fund for Paralegals: Varies
- Jamie Bowie Memorial Scholarship: $250
One of the options to consider if you want to be a paralegal or legal assistant in business law is to earn what is called a certificated paralegal designation, which is obtained after completing an ABA-approved education program in paralegal studies.
There also are certifications offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants such as:
- Accredited Legal Professional (ALP)
- Professional Legal Secretary (PLS)
- Professional Paralegal (PP)
Some of the associations and groups to look at if you are interested in business law are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- American Bar Association
- National Lawyers Association
- Federal Bar Association
- Legal Marketing Association
The job outlook for legal professionals, attorneys and paralegals in business law is strong as the US economy continues to get better and better. Also, the better business environment means it may be a good idea for business professionals to gain a business law background so they can be more competitive in the global marketplace.