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An Overview: Key Commercial Practice Areas

It is vital to know what different practice areas at law firms do, to understand how law firms operate more broadly. This blog post will hopefully be useful if you are interviewing at law firms, or about to start your training contract!

1. Banking & Finance

Banking and Finance is a core practice of many commercial firms; it covers a wide range of work, from straightforward bank lending to large syndicate loans spanning multiple jurisdictions, often overlapping with multiple practice areas such as capital markets and restructuring. It is an extremely technical area of law, and lawyers in this practice are responsible for negotiating and documenting the contractual relationship between lenders and borrowers.

Within Banking & Finance, there are a variety of specialised areas, including:

  • Acquisition Finance: in which private equity fund or company seeks a loan to finance acquisition of another company; encompasses leveraged buyouts where debt is leveraged alongside equity to fund the cost of an acquisition.

  • Project Finance: companies seek long-term financing of infrastructure and capital-intensive projects, whereby any borrowed money is paid back from the cash flow generated by the project.

  • Real Estate Finance: in which companies seek loans to acquire property or finance development of land.

  • Asset Finance: loan made for the purchase of large assets; lender normally secures loan by taking security over said asset.

Much of the work in this area if at a city firm is highly complex and cross-jurisdictional, and involves conducting due diligence on the potential liabilities of the borrower and negotiating the terms of the financial agreement. Some of the specific tasks that lawyers in this practice area may undertake include:

  • Structuring and negotiating complex financial transactions such as mergers and acquisitions, syndicated loans, and securities offerings.

  • Conducting due diligence and risk assessments to identify and address legal and regulatory issues that may impact a transaction.

  • Drafting and reviewing legal agreements and other transaction documents, such as loan agreements, security agreements, and bond indentures.

  • Advising clients on regulatory compliance issues related to banking and finance, including securities regulations, anti-money laundering laws, and banking regulations.

  • Representing clients in litigation and arbitration related to financial transactions, such as disputes over loan defaults or securities fraud.

  • Providing advice on financial regulatory issues such as capital requirements, liquidity rules, and risk management.

  • Advising clients on the legal implications of new financial products or innovations.

Some of the tasks that trainees may be involved in could include:

  • Conducting legal research and drafting memos on relevant legal issues.

  • Drafting and reviewing contracts, loan agreements, and other legal documents.

  • Participating in client meetings and conference calls.

  • Assisting with due diligence and document review.

  • Preparing closing documents and coordinating closings.

  • Reviewing and analysing financial statements and other financial documents.

  • Keeping up-to-date with changes in banking and finance law and regulations.

2. Capital Markets

Capital markets covers transactions involving the issuance of debt securities or equity to the public or institutional investors. Fundamentally, people who are looking for capital i.e. governments and companies, are linked with people who can supply capital i.e. banks and financial investors. Lawyers working in capital markets therefore typically specialise in advising clients on legal matters related to the buying and selling of financial instruments, such as stocks, bonds and other securities, ensuring these transactions comply with any relevant laws and regulations.

It is a complex area of law, and two key terms have been simplified below:

  • Equity finance: Private company raises capital by going public (IPO) and offering shares on the stock market such as the LSE. exchange for purchasing shares of the company's stock, investors become part owners of the company and are entitled to a portion of its profits in the form of dividends and/or capital gains.

  • Debt finance: company raises capital by borrowing money from lenders, such as banks or other financial institutions. In exchange for the loan, the lender typically takes security over the company’s assets in exchange and the borrower agrees to pay back the principal amount plus interest over a set period of time. There are several types of debt financing including but the main forms include bank loans and bonds. Debt finance allows companies to leverage outside capital without giving up control of the company in question, and if successful, allow a greater return on equity.

Capital Market lawyers may be responsible for:

  • Structuring and negotiating securities offerings, including drafting prospectuses, offering documents, and underwriting agreements.

  • Advising clients on securities laws and regulations, including disclosure requirements and compliance with securities regulations.

  • Conducting due diligence on issuers and underwriters to identify any legal or regulatory issues that could impact the offering.

  • Advising clients on the risks and benefits of different types of securities and underwriting arrangements.

  • Representing clients in regulatory investigations and enforcement actions related to securities offerings.

  • Drafting and negotiating contracts related to securities offerings, such as purchase agreements, shareholder agreements, and registration rights agreements.

  • Advising clients on corporate governance issues related to securities offerings, including shareholder rights and obligations.

Some of the tasks that trainees may be involved in could include:

  • Conducting legal research and drafting memos on relevant legal issues related to securities offerings.

  • Drafting and reviewing offering documents, underwriting agreements, and other legal documents.

  • Participating in client meetings and conference calls.

  • Assisting with due diligence and document review.

  • Preparing closing documents and coordinating closings.

  • Reviewing and analysing financial statements and other financial documents.

Keeping up to date with changes in securities law and regulations.

3. Competition

Competition law is a vital aspect of modern-day commerce, ensuring that businesses and consumers operate in a fair and competitive environment. As such, competition law practices are a significant part of many law firms, and lawyers specializing in this area offer expert guidance to clients on antitrust, mergers and acquisitions, cartels, abuse of dominance, and other related issues. Competition law revolves around sets of legal rules and regulations that intend to promote competition and prevent anti-competitive practices, ensuring a fair market for consumers. The CMA governs and enforces competition law; under the Competition Act 1998, anti-competitive agreements are prohibited between businesses, companies are prohibited from abusing their dominant market position, and mergers & acquisitions that would result in a company acquiring too large of a market share (monopoly) are also barred. Competition lawyers therefore are specialists in advising businesses on how to comply with competition law, and do so by focusing on the impact of proposed transactions on the level of competition in the market.

Some of the tasks that lawyers in competition practice may undertake include:

  • Providing legal advice to clients on competition law compliance, including ensuring that clients' practices are compliant with antitrust laws and regulations.

  • Negotiate clearance for acquisitions, mergers and joint ventures.

  • Representing clients before competition authorities in antitrust and competition law investigations.

  • Conducting due diligence for clients in the context of mergers and acquisitions to identify any potential antitrust or competition law concerns.

  • Representing clients in litigation involving antitrust and competition law issues, such as price-fixing, abuse of dominance, and cartel investigations.

  • Drafting and negotiating agreements for clients, such as distribution and supply agreements, with a focus on ensuring compliance with competition law.

Trainees in competition practice may have a range of responsibilities, depending on their level of experience and the needs of the firm. Some possible tasks for trainees include:

  • Researching competition law issues: Trainees may be responsible for conducting research on various competition law topics, such as market definition, abuse of dominance, and cartel behaviour. They may also assist with drafting legal memos and reports summarizing their findings.

  • Assisting with merger and acquisition transactions: Trainees may help lawyers in the competition practice with due diligence for mergers and acquisitions, including reviewing documents and identifying potential competition law issues. They may also assist with preparing merger notifications and obtaining regulatory approvals.

  • Document review: Trainees may be responsible for reviewing documents related to competition law investigations or litigation, including emails, contracts, and financial records. They may also assist with organizing and managing large volumes of documents.

  • Attending client meetings: Trainees may have the opportunity to attend client meetings and participate in discussions related to competition law issues. This can be a valuable learning experience and may help trainees develop their client communication skills.

  • Drafting legal documents: Trainees may assist with drafting legal documents related to competition law, such as complaints, motions, and briefs. They may also help prepare presentations for hearings or meetings.

4. Corporate M&A

A corporate M&A practice at a law firm typically focuses on advising companies throughout the process of buying or selling businesses, alongside buying and selling the assets of other businesses. This can involve working with both buyers and sellers to help them navigate the legal complexities of the transaction and achieve their strategic objectives. M&A transactions typically fall into two categorisations:

  • Share sale: Ownership of company is transferred by selling the shares of one company to another party. The buyer acquires the ownership of the company by purchasing the shares from the existing shareholders, and the company itself remains unchanged. Alongside the shares, the buyer acquires all the assets, liabilities and obligations of the company.

  • Asset sale: In an asset sale transaction, only certain assets specified in the sale agreement of a company are sold to another party, such as its physical assets, inventory, equipment, and IP. Under an asset sale, the buyer can choose what liabilities it is to assume.

The role of a lawyer in a corporate M&A practice can vary depending on the specific transaction and the needs of the client, but some common responsibilities may involve:

  • Due Diligence: Conducting thorough DD to identity potential legal risks or issues that could impact the transaction or the client’s business. This may involve reviewing contracts for change of control provisions, financial statements, regulatory compliance, IP, and other legal documents and agreements.

  • Negotiation: Negotiating the terms of the transaction and drafting the necessary legal documents, including purchase agreements, shareholder agreements, and other ancillary documents.

  • Regulatory Compliance: Ensuring that the transaction complies with all relevant laws and regulations, including anti-trust laws, securities laws, and tax laws.

  • Closing: Facilitating the closing of the transaction and ensuring all necessary legal formalities are completed.

  • Post-closing: providing ongoing legal support to help the client integrate the acquired business, address any legal issues that may arise, and achieve their long-term strategic goals.

A trainee working in corporate M&A would primarily be supporting the more senior lawyers in the team in their work on M&A transactions; the work may involve tasks such as:

  • Conducting legal and commercial research on M&A transactions and drafting memos summarizing the findings.

  • Assisting in due diligence investigations of target companies, which may include reviewing corporate records, financial statements, and legal agreements.

  • Drafting and reviewing transaction documents, such as non-disclosure agreements, letters of intent, and purchase agreements.

  • Coordinating with other teams within the firm, such as tax, employment, and intellectual property teams, to ensure that all relevant issues are addressed in the transaction documents.

  • Communicating with clients and other parties involved in the M&A transaction, such as investment bankers, accountants, and other lawyers.

  • Attending client meetings, deal negotiations, and drafting sessions.

  • Assisting in post-transaction integration, such as preparing for the transfer of assets and personnel to the buyer.

  • It is therefore clear that corporate M&A has many connections to other practices, including but not limited to, tax, restructuring, IP, Private Equity, and competition.

5. Dispute Resolution & Litigation

Dispute resolution and litigation practice is a key area of legal expertise that deals with resolving disputes between parties through negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or litigation. Dispute resolution lawyers provide a range of services to clients, from legal advice and representation to advocacy and negotiation. At a law firm, dispute resolution and litigation practice involves advising clients on various disputes, including commercial and business disputes, employment disputes, family disputes, and personal injury claims, among others. Lawyers in this practice area have extensive knowledge of the law and legal procedures, and they use this knowledge to help their clients achieve favourable outcomes.

The role of a lawyer working in dispute resolution and litigation is extensive, and may involve:

  • Representing clients in court proceedings, including trials and appeals.

  • They also represent clients in alternative dispute resolution processes, such as mediation and arbitration.

  • Lawyers in this practice area work closely with clients to understand their needs and goals, and they develop strategies to help clients achieve their desired outcomes.

  • In addition to representing clients, dispute resolution and litigation lawyers provide legal advice on various matters, including contract disputes, intellectual property disputes, construction disputes, insurance claims, and more.

  • They also draft legal documents, including pleadings, motions, and briefs, and they conduct legal research to support their arguments.

Trainees working in dispute resolution and litigation practice have the opportunity to gain valuable experience working on a variety of cases, and may work on tasks such as:

  • The preparation of legal documents, including drafting pleadings, motions, and briefs.

  • Trainees also assist in legal research, helping to identify key legal principles and cases that are relevant to a particular case. They attend court hearings and trials, and they help to prepare witnesses for testimony.

  • Trainees may also participate in client meetings and negotiations, helping to develop strategies for resolving disputes.

  • In addition to gaining practical experience, trainees in dispute resolution and litigation practice have the opportunity to develop their legal skills and knowledge. They receive ongoing training and mentoring from senior lawyers, which helps them to build their legal expertise and gain a better understanding of the legal profession.

6. Employment

The employment practice at a law firm involves advising clients on a wide range of employment-related issues, including contracts, disputes, discrimination, harassment, and employee benefits. Employment lawyers work with clients to ensure that they comply with all relevant employment laws and regulations and to minimize the risk of legal disputes. Employment law is a constantly evolving area of law, and employment lawyers must keep up to date with changes in legislation and case law to provide the best possible advice to clients. Employment lawyers provide a range of services to clients, from advising on employment contracts and policies to representing clients in employment-related disputes. They work with both employers and employees, helping them to navigate the complex legal landscape of employment law.

Employment lawyers advise clients on a wide range of issues, including:

  • Employment contracts: drafting, negotiating, and reviewing contracts to ensure that they comply with all relevant employment laws and regulations.

  • Discrimination and harassment: advising clients on their obligations and rights under anti-discrimination and harassment laws, and representing clients in discrimination and harassment claims.

  • Workplace disputes: helping clients to resolve disputes between employees, or between employees and employers, through negotiation, mediation, or litigation.

  • Termination of employment: advising clients on the legal requirements for terminating employment, including redundancy and unfair dismissal.

Trainees working in the employment practice at a law firm typically assist more senior lawyers with a variety of tasks related to employment law. Here are some examples of what trainees may do in this practice area:

  • Conducting legal research: Trainees may be tasked with researching various employment law issues, such as discrimination, wrongful termination, or wage and hour laws.

  • Drafting legal documents: Trainees may assist with drafting legal documents, such as employment contracts, severance agreements, or non-compete agreements.

  • Attending client meetings: Trainees may attend client meetings and take notes, assist with presentations, or help answer client questions.

  • Assisting with litigation: Trainees may help with the discovery process, such as reviewing documents or preparing deposition summaries.

  • Keeping up-to-date with legal developments: Trainees may be expected to stay informed about changes in employment law and update their colleagues on relevant developments.

7. Insolvency & Restructuring

An insolvency and restructuring practice at a law firm focuses on helping clients navigate financial difficulties, whether that be through restructuring their business, negotiating with creditors, or pursuing bankruptcy. Lawyers in this practice help clients analyse their financial situation, develop a plan for addressing their debts, and take legal action to protect their assets.

Here are some examples of what lawyers in an insolvency and restructuring practice may do:

  • Advising on bankruptcy proceedings: Lawyers may assist clients with filing for bankruptcy.

  • Negotiating with creditors: Lawyers may negotiate with creditors to try to reach an agreement on restructuring debt, extending payment terms, or reducing the total amount owed.

  • Representing clients in court: Lawyers may represent clients in court in cases related to bankruptcy or insolvency, such as defending against creditor lawsuits or advocating for the rights of the debtor.

  • Developing restructuring plans: Lawyers may work with clients to develop plans for restructuring their business, which may involve reducing costs, selling assets, or reorganizing the company.

  • Conducting due diligence: Lawyers may conduct due diligence on behalf of clients considering investing in distressed companies or acquiring assets from bankrupt entities.

Trainees in a restructuring practice typically work alongside senior consultants and managers to help clients improve their financial and operational performance. Some common tasks that trainees might be responsible for include:

  • Financial analysis: Trainees may help with financial modelling, data analysis, and cash flow forecasting to assess a company's financial situation.

  • Market research: They may be asked to conduct research on industry trends and competitive landscapes to help clients make informed decisions.

  • Project management: Trainees may assist with project management tasks such as scheduling, tracking progress, and communicating with clients.

  • Document preparation: They may be responsible for preparing presentation materials, reports, and other documents for client meetings.

  • Client interaction: Trainees may interact with clients and stakeholders, including attending client meetings and answering client inquiries.

  • Problem-solving: They may be tasked with helping to identify and solve complex business problems, and may work on developing strategies to improve a client's financial and operational performance.

8. Private Equity

Private equity practice at a law firm typically involves advising private equity firms, funds, and their portfolio companies on various legal matters related to their investments, mergers and acquisitions. Lawyers in the private equity practice typically work on a wide range of transactions, including leveraged buyouts, capital growth investments, distressed investments, and exit transactions. They help their clients with due diligence, drafting and negotiating transaction documents, structuring deals, financing arrangements, and regulatory compliance. Lawyers in this practice area also provide legal advice on ongoing portfolio company matters such as corporate governance, employment and labour law, intellectual property, litigation and dispute resolution, and tax matters. In addition to transactional work, lawyers in private equity practice may also advise clients on fund formation, fundraising, and regulatory compliance matters, as well as provide general counsel services to private equity firms and their portfolio companies.

As a trainee in a private equity practice, you will typically be involved in a variety of tasks, including:

· Conducting legal research: You will be expected to conduct legal research on various topics related to private equity transactions, such as securities law, tax law, and corporate law. This research will help inform the legal advice that you and your team provide to clients.

  • Drafting legal documents: You will assist senior lawyers in drafting various legal documents, such as term sheets, purchase agreements, and disclosure schedules. This work will give you a practical understanding of the legal concepts and principles that underpin private equity transactions.

  • Participating in due diligence: You will work with other lawyers in the firm to conduct due diligence on companies that private equity firms are considering investing in. This will involve reviewing and analysing financial statements, corporate documents, and other relevant information to identify potential legal risks and issues

  • Attending client meetings and negotiations: You may have the opportunity to attend client meetings and negotiations with senior lawyers in the practice. This will give you exposure to the commercial considerations and dynamics of private equity transactions.

  • Assisting with closing transactions: You may be involved in the final stages of a private equity transaction, such as coordinating the execution of documents and ensuring that all conditions precedent have been satisfied.

9. Real Estate

Real estate practice is a specialized area of law that deals with a wide range of legal issues related to property, including buying, selling, leasing, financing, developing, and managing real estate assets. Lawyers in this practice area work with a variety of clients, including developers, investors, lenders, and tenants, to help them navigate complex real estate transactions and achieve their business objectives.

Lawyers in real estate practice provide legal advice on a wide range of issues, including:

  • Real estate transactions: They advise clients on the legal and regulatory aspects of buying, selling, and leasing real estate, including negotiating and drafting contracts, conducting due diligence, and ensuring compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

  • Real estate finance: They advise clients on the legal aspects of financing real estate transactions, including negotiating and drafting loan agreements, security documents, and intercreditor agreements.

  • Real estate development: They advise clients on the legal and regulatory aspects of developing real estate, including land use regulations, environmental laws, and construction contracts.

  • Real estate investment: They advise clients on the legal and regulatory aspects of investing in real estate, including structuring investment vehicles, managing partnerships and joint ventures, and complying with securities laws.

  • Real estate litigation: They represent clients in disputes related to real estate, including disputes over ownership, land use, zoning, and environmental issues.

In general, trainees in a law firm's real estate practice will likely be involved in a range of tasks and responsibilities related to real estate transactions and related legal matters. These may include:

  • Conducting legal research on real estate law, regulations, and case law.

  • Drafting legal documents, including purchase agreements, lease agreements, and other transactional documents.

  • Assisting with due diligence activities, including reviewing title reports, surveys, and other property-related documents.

  • Communicating with clients, brokers, and other parties involved in a transaction.

  • Attending meetings and negotiations with clients and other parties.

  • Participating in closings and other transactional activities.

  • Assisting with real estate litigation matters, such as boundary disputes and title issues.

  • Dealing with commercial or residential property – planning, real estate finance, real estate litigation

10. Tax

Tax practice is a specialized area of law that focuses on helping clients navigate complex tax laws and regulations. Tax lawyers work with individuals, corporations, and other entities to provide advice on a wide range of tax-related issues, including tax planning, tax compliance, and tax litigation.

helps with tax related issues i.e. what is most efficient way to structure the transaction.

Tax lawyers provide a variety of services to their clients, including:

  • Tax planning: They help clients structure their transactions in a tax-efficient manner, taking advantage of available tax deductions, credits, and exemptions.

  • Tax compliance: They assist clients in complying with their tax obligations, including preparing tax returns and responding to tax audits and investigations.

  • Tax litigation: They represent clients in tax disputes with the IRS and other tax authorities, including appeals of tax assessments and litigation in tax court.

  • International tax: They advise clients on the tax implications of cross-border transactions, including the application of tax treaties and the resolution of international tax disputes.

  • Employee benefits and executive compensation: They advise clients on the tax implications of employee benefit plans and executive compensation arrangements, including stock options, restricted stock units, and deferred compensation.

Trainees in a tax practice typically perform a variety of tasks related to tax compliance, planning, and consulting. These tasks may include:

  • Conducting research on tax laws and regulations: Tax trainees are typically required to stay up-to-date with changes in tax laws and regulations. They may be tasked with researching and analysing tax laws and regulations to ensure compliance with applicable tax codes.

  • Preparing tax returns: Trainees may assist with preparing tax returns for individuals, partnerships, corporations, and other entities. This involves gathering financial data and other relevant information from clients, and using tax software to prepare and file the returns.

  • Assisting with tax planning: Trainees may help clients develop tax strategies to minimize tax liability and maximize tax benefits. This may involve analysing financial data, identifying tax-saving opportunities, and providing recommendations to clients.

  • Communicating with clients: Trainees may interact with clients to gather information, answer questions, and provide updates on tax-related matters.

  • Collaborating with other professionals: Tax trainees may work closely with other professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, and financial advisors, to provide comprehensive tax advice to clients.

  • Attending meetings and training sessions: Trainees may attend client meetings, internal training sessions, and other professional development events to further their knowledge and skills in tax practice.


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