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How to Become a Finance Lawyer
Financial lawyers handle banking, investment and contract legal matters for all types of clients, from multinational corporations to small businesses to individuals. The path to a finance lawyer career requires many years of education, licensing and experience in the financial industry. When you succeed, you can expect good job prospects and a chance to earn a handsome salary.
What Does a Banking Lawyer do?
Financial lawyers go by a variety of names, including banking lawyer, investment banking lawyer and corporate lawyer. They deal with legal matters that involve regulations and statutes associated with securities such as stocks, bonds and options. Some financial lawyers also handle bankruptcies, real estate transactions and antitrust matters.
Financial lawyers usually specialize in a particular type of financial law. For example, if a company needs to file for bankruptcy, they would need a lawyer with experience in reorganizing or liquidating businesses. Likewise, a company that stands accused of creating a monopoly would need the expertise of an antitrust attorney. A stock brokerage facing a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission violation might hire a lawyer who specializes in securities and a mortgage lender seeking to foreclose on a property would need an attorney experienced in banking laws and procedures.
Financial lawyers handle legal matters for small businesses, large corporations and individuals. Many financial lawyers work for law firms that represent corporate clients and individuals, while others serve as in-house counsel for large companies such as investment firms, banks or corporations. Some banking lawyers also work for government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Government Accountability Office, or for investigative and prosecutorial agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice.
Financial lawyers have a variety of duties and responsibilities. Some in-house banking lawyers perform due diligence on potential borrowers or write contracts for investment agreements, mortgages and lines of credit. Others oversee compliance issues. For example, a nationwide mortgage lender might retain a banking lawyer to make sure their finance agreements comply with federal regulations and lending laws in all 50 states. Some financial lawyers deal with mergers and acquisitions, with others help prepare and file corporate tax returns. Banking lawyers who work with small businesses draft contracts and help startup companies meet legal requirements in areas such as incorporation, funding and initial public offerings.
Because of the global nature of banking, finance and investing some large law firms have multiple offices around the globe, in locations such as London, Singapore, Zurich and Hong Kong. This enables them to generate more business with the world’s largest companies. For example, a law firm with offices in the European Union could help a San Jose, California, technology company merge with a competitor in France. Global firms also help multinational companies navigate tax laws, acquire real estate and secure foreign funding when moving into new markets.
Finance Lawyer Education Requirements
Becoming a banking lawyer requires earning a bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctor degree from law school. Although law schools do not require applicants to hold a particular type of bachelor’s degree, you could lay a foundation for your future career by earning a degree in finance, accounting, business administration or international business. Other beneficial courses include public speaking, economics, government and mathematics. Most undergraduate programs take about four years to complete. Some aspiring lawyer earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees before applying to law school.
Typically, law school programs take three years to complete. Getting into law school is no easy task, due to stringent admission standards and competition with other applicants. First, you must pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and then undergo an interview before the school’s admissions board. Law schools look for students that they believe will make good lawyers. Typically, they look at an applicant’s overall suitability, examining their school transcripts, LSAT scores, employment history, extracurricular activities and volunteer work.
Law school coursework includes practical studies such as legal writing and contracts, along with civil procedure, constitutional law and property law. Many schools allow you to choose a specialty such as corporate or financial law.
Most employers seek financial lawyers with some type of finance experience. Past work experience in banking, finance or accounting can improve your chances of landing your first finance lawyer job. To gain experience, you also might seek internship or law clerk opportunities with a finance law firm.
Bar Exams and Licensing
After graduating from law school, you must pass bar examinations to obtain your license to practice law. The term “bar” refers to the American Bar association (ABA), a national organization of lawyers and law students. Passing the bar examinations entitles you admission to the bar, which means you can legally practice law.
Every state has an ABA chapter and bar examination guidelines. Each state’s highest court determines its bar rules, including the types of examinations a lawyer must take and pass to earn a law. Bar admission requirements vary by state.
Most states require lawyers to hold a Juris Doctor degree from an ABA-accredited law school. Some states require lawyers to pass one written examination, while others require multiple tests.
Some state ABA chapters have reciprocity agreements with other states, which allow you to transfer you bar exam scores in order to practice in more than one state. However, you may need to meet additional requirements in order to expand your practice to another state. For example, if state A requires lawyers to pass just one bar examination, but state B requires two tests, state B may transfer your bar examination score for the first test, but require you to take and pass the second test. Some states do not offer reciprocity and require all out-of-state lawyers to pass their bar tests to obtain a license.
To gain admission to the bar, you must meet character and fitness qualifications. Bar candidates must disclose details about their past, with documentation about their job history and issues such as criminal charges or incidents of school disciplinary actions. Fitness and character requirements vary by state. Some state bars overlook minor offenses such as speeding tickets, but serious incidents such as assault charges can disqualify an applicant from bar admission.
Typically, you cannot practice law in another country. In some cases, you can work as an associate lawyer on an international case, which would require hiring a primary attorney in the national jurisdiction that will hear the case. For instance, if your American client hires you to deal with a matter involving a securities trade the falls under the jurisdiction of the German courts, you must work in association with a lawyer licensed to practice in the German court system.
Essential Qualities of a Banking Lawyer
To succeed as a banking lawyer, you must have certain personal and professional qualities. To understand and resolve complex legal matters, you must have good analytical and problem-solving skills. Finance lawyers must have advanced research skills to research legal precedents and current laws.
Banking lawyers need good interpersonal skills when meeting with clients. They must have good verbal and written communication skills to explain legal matters in layman’s terms to their clients.
Finance and securities attorneys must understand the details of loans, banking structures, contracts and securities such as stocks, bonds and options. Banking lawyers who represent international clients, or work with international finance legal matters, must stay abreast of laws and regulations in other countries.
Finance, Banking and Corporate Lawyer Salary
According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey, lawyers earned a median salary of nearly $120,000 in 2017. The median salary represents the center of the lawyer pay scale.
At the time of this writing, a search of salaries published by the jobs website Glassdoor returned a broad range of finance and banking lawyer salaries. For example, Morgan Lewis’ business and finance lawyers make $186,000 to 241,000, while Bank of America finance lawyers earn $120,000 to $130,000. Katten’s financial attorneys make $226,000 to $247,000 per year and Apple’s corporate finance lawyers take home $180,000 to $197,000. Topping the Glassdoor survey, Vedder Price finance and securities attorneys make $315,000 to $347,000 each year. Glassdoor bases its salary data on information submitted by finance, securities and corporate lawyers.
Banking Lawyer Job Outlook
The BLS does not publish data specific to banking and finance lawyers. However, the Bureau expects job opportunities for all lawyers to grow by about 8 percent, through 2026. The largest growth for finance and banking lawyers may occur at in-house counsel jobs, as corporations reduce legal costs by expanding their legal staffs, while moving away from retaining law firms.
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Michael Evans’ career path has taken many planned and unexpected twists and turns, from TV sports producer to internet project manager to cargo ship deckhand. He has worked in numerous industries, including higher education, government, transportation, finance, manufacturing, journalism and travel. Along the way, he has developed job descriptions, interviewed job applicants and gained insight into the types of education, work experience and personal characteristics employers seek in job candidates. Michael graduated from The University of Memphis, where he studied photography and film production. He began writing professionally while working for an online finance company in San Francisco, California. His writings have appeared in print and online publications, including Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool and Bankrate.