To be a corporate lawyer today, you sometimes need to wear two hats—one for business acumen, and another for legal expertise.
And as rapid technological developments continue to reshape the way business is done, lawyers specializing in corporate law are increasingly pressured to bring added skill sets to the table.
“What all the firms are telling us is they need someone with a global perspective and strong business outlook,” says Paula Heras, associate director of admissions at IE Law School in Madrid. “That’s becoming more and more important—a deep knowledge of management, finance, accounting, technology, and really understanding how business works.”
“Today, firms can’t afford to have lawyers who cannot work across jurisdictions.”
Corporate law LL.M.s can help tailor the knowledge base for those looking to work in the sector, and different programs offer a range of choices for those looking to break into the sector.
A selection of Corporate Law LL.M. programs
Most of the top law schools in the US will offer LL.M.s that include corporate law either as a specialty or as part of their curricula.
Beyond Corporate LL.M. offerings, some law schools offer LL.M.s in Business Law, Company Law, and related topics such as Finance Law. While Corporate Law generally focuses on the legalities governing sale and distribution of goods in the market, Business Law usually covers mergers and acquisitions, formation of companies, and rights of shareholders. Attorneys who work in Finance Law, on the other hand, might help financial and banking institutions navigate the complex web of rules covering these areas.
Some programs allow students to take classes at the same university’s business school; for example, the University of Pennsylvania offers its LL.M. students a Business and Law Certificate, a custom-designed program taught by Wharton faculty and industry experts.
LL.M. students at University of Southern California can also take courses at the Marshall School of Business, although they aren’t counted toward their curriculum credits. University of New York’s LL.M. in Corporate Law also lets students take classes in the departments of finance or international business at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
In Spain, IE’s LL.M. in International Business allows students to earn a Certificate of Business Administration from IE Business School in addition to the LL.M. degree.
“Business is central to all of our programs, so we incorporate that culture of management and entrepreneurship to our curriculum,” says Heras. “It’s what the market is asking of us. Innovation is one of our core values, so it’s really important for us to keep our LL.M. students up to date.”
Students at IE’s LL.M. range from fresh law graduates to those who have already been working for a few years; most want a career in international law, to specialize in different jurisdictions and seek mobility from their country of origin, Heras adds.
In Germany, the Institute for Law and Finance at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main offers two LL.M.s in Finance—one specifically targeting students from Asia—that aim to overcome the traditional academic separation of law and business/economics. Courses include subjects like European and international corporate law, law on capital markets and securities, law of commercial banking and investment banking, as well as topics on European monetary policies and central banking.
Panagiota Bountrou, an admissions and recruitment manager at ILF, says that the school has seen an uptick in interest since Brexit was announced, with many applicants also coming from southern European countries in recent years.
Other schools blend their curriculum in different ways. The University of San Diego offers an LL.M. in Business and Corporate Law, although most of their international students choose to do the LL.M. in Comparative Law with a business concentration.
“That track is helpful for a foreign attorney—it has a little more relaxed GPA requirement and exam accommodations,” says Robynn Allveri, assistant director of graduate and international programs at USD.
Most applicants are fairly young attorneys, with up to three years of work experience, Allveri says; at least half are working at the time of application, and generally have the support—in terms of recommendation letters, etc.—of their employers. The school’s program tends to draw interest from applicants in the Middle East and Latin America a bit more than Europe or Asia, although the student base remains very diverse.
Changes in Corporate Law LL.M. curriculum
At USD, the LL.M. curriculum has seen in increase in focus around alternative dispute resolution over the years, Allveri says, as well as a slight pivot toward Asia-Pacific-related issues as a result of the Obama administration’s foreign policy shift and China’s current economic prowess.
“I’d say there’s generally been a move away from litigation, and more of a focus on arbitration or mediation in the corporate world,” she says. “International business and trade topics have also been taking a broader geographical approach.”
For Heras at IE, compliance has developed as a new focus as companies spend more to meet regulatory imperatives on areas like data privacy, financial crime and supply chain management.
“While it’s still a base of international business law, compliance is a focal point we haven’t had before—and now it’s a really strong part of the program,” she says, taking note of the LL.M.’s law and technology module.
Is there a difference between European and US styles of curriculum for Corporate Law LL.M.s Heras says that European programs on the whole tend to be more theoretical, while those in the US take a more pragmatic approach.
“I would say the Anglo-American style is a bit more comparative; the methodology in the States is a lot more practical than in Spain,” she says. “At IE we use case methods developed by Harvard; we’ve always gone toward a more practical methodology, which is not common in Europe. When I went to law school it was mostly hearing a professor lecture.”
Job prospects for Corporate Law LL.M. students
Many corporate law LL.M. programs develop relationships with regional firms, opening doors for employment after graduation; Procopio, for instance, is a San Diego law firm that has been traditionally supportive of USD LL.M. graduates, Allveri says. The vast majority of USD's graduates go into private practice; recent alumni have gone on to work at large firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers or Deloitte, while others returned to their home countries to seek other opportunities—one graduate went on to become dean of Kuwait’s international law school, and another now sits on the supreme court of Papua New Guinea.
It would help applicants if they can gain at least a year’s worth of work experience under their belt before applying—”to make sure that being in the corporate world is something that makes them happy, that they’re good at, before devoting money and resources into a program completely devoted to it,” Allveri says.
“I’ve seen quite a few students who went into it thinking, ‘oh that sounds like a good catch-all,’ and then it turns out that there’s maybe another area of law that’s more interesting to them, and they wish they could switch,” she adds. “Sometimes you can, but it’s tricky—if you switch mid-stream, you might not get enough credits to fulfill your requirement.”
Frankfurt’s Bountrou says that internships lend a crucial practical element to an LL.M. student’s education, and strengthens his or her job prospects. Heras agrees: “Law and business—everyone seems to think it’s a natural thing, but not everyone is very well-informed and trained enough to go into it,” she says. For IE alumni, most are now in consulting or legal advising for corporations.
“When I went to law school in Spain, I thought I knew what I needed to know about corporate law. But it’s not just understanding the law—it’s getting a bigger picture of how the world of business, accounting, finance, and management actually works.”
Photo: Cropped/Jochi/Man Made / Skyscraper