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by Vault Law Editors | October 23, 2019


If there is one common refrain when it comes to career readiness out of law school, it is that there isn't enough preparation for transactional work. No matter how high your grade is in corporations or how many wins you scored in mock negotiations, it is difficult to understand exactly what a corporate lawyer does and how to prepare for the career path without actually practicing yourself—or talking with experienced lawyers in the field.

In our recent publication Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas, five BigLaw corporate attorneys shared what a typical day is like for them, including some of the everyday tasks they perform and how their roles have changed over time. Read one for their insights.

Duane McLaughlin, Partner - Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

My day consists of three different types of activities. First, I interact with clients every day on pending transactions, and I answer general questions they have or discuss transactions they are thinking about doing. It often involves legal issues outside of my core practice, which is when I bring in my colleagues from different practice areas at the firm.

Second, I spend time each day with the teams on my deals. I tend to be the most involved in the early stages of a deal, when I may review and comment on every turn of the main documents. As the deal progresses, and depending on the seniority of the associates I am working with, I delegate more to the associates and try to hand over to them leadership in the process, following up frequently to discuss key substantive or procedural issues. I really enjoy doing the actual legal work and supporting associates in their roles.

Finally, I spend a good part of each day staying up to date on market or legal developments as they relate to my practice.

Elizabeth Cooper, Partner, and Michael Chao, Associate - Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP

Ms. Cooper: The only thing typical is that there is no typical! You never know how the day will unfold. As you build your practice, you tend to spend more time speaking with colleagues and clients, thinking and advising, and having relationship discussions. I spend a lot of my time on the “big picture,” and it can be challenging to fit in document work—drafting and reviewing material—because my focus has shifted. What I’ve learned above all is that clients want their lawyer to be a trusted advisor and decision maker—able to quickly take in and sift through the broad range of issues that unexpectedly arise and to keep their eye on the larger business goal. Whether it’s during a lengthy in-person meeting or a quick telephone chat, the ability to analyze, exercise good judgment, and cogently present one’s counsel is key.

Mr. Chao: I’ve noticed a shift in focus even during the course of my career as an associate. Younger associates work on more discrete assignments within the larger transaction where they interface with mid-level and senior associates, who mentor and supervise their work. Junior associates also have contact with their peers at the relevant client. As you become more senior and take on more responsibility, you increasingly understand where your work fits within a broader picture and the client’s ultimate objectives. Although I, too, have no typical day, my focus remains the same regardless of whatever project I’m handling: “How do I keep the deal moving forward?” This might involve talking with someone on the other side of a deal, talking to a client, drafting a document, researching, or reaching out to colleagues in another department.

Z. Julie Gao, Partner - Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates

There really is no typical day for me. Like a doctor in the ER, my day is often filled with unexpected situations involving a very wide range of legal issues in different jurisdictions, followed by a feeling of excitement after resolving many of these issues and getting deals done. I travel frequently to meet clients in mainland China and work closely with our teams in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. Like all of the Skadden partners, I am directly involved in my matters, so I really cover all major aspects of the deals.

Elina Tetelbaum, Partner - Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

A typical day involves being on the phone or in meetings with clients or colleagues working through deal-specific or governance-related issues, negotiating transaction documents with opposing counsel, or working on regulatory filings in connection with a transaction. At an earlier stage of a transaction, much of the time is spent scenario planning and evaluating strategic options, researching corporate law or securities law questions, and considering structuring considerations. As a transaction gets closer to completion, there is a faster pace of negotiation, with a lot more back and forth with clients and counterparties to close out any remaining issues.

To read more insights from the above attorneys on what it is like to practice Corporate law, as well as detailed Q&As from more than 100 attorneys across 25 practice areas, check out our 2019 edition of Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas. (Students, login for free access if your school is a partner—check with career services)

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