Roles in BigLaw
Figuring what on earth Harvey Specter actually practices for a living
What's this about?
To help decrypt some of the confusing jargon used when it comes to the various practice areas and what they do, we’ve prepared this quick breakdown so you know exactly where you’re going and what you’ll be doing! Let’s get into it.
Transactional v Litigation v Advisory
The type of work in a law firm can be largely divided up into three main buckets: transactional work, litigation or advisory. A practice area will often do one or more of these.
What’s the difference?
- If you’re doing transactional work, it means you are primarily working on deals.
- If you’re doing litigious work, it means you are probably going to court or working towards some other sort of dispute resolution mechanism e.g. arbitration or mediation.
- If you’re doing advisory work, then you are drafting legal advices.
Practice areas vary across different firms, but a standard full-service corporate law firm will generally have the M&A and litigation teams and a bunch of specialist teams:
M&A: this is one of the powerhouse practice areas of the firm and what people think of when they mention the TV show “Suits”. M&A is a huge area and at the larger firms is often broken down into Private Equity, Private M&A and Public M&A.
- What do I do… you work with investment bankers and the company to buy or sell companies/businesses. In larger firms, being in a more specific M&A team e.g. PE means you might work more with PE firms, whereas if you were in the Public M&A team, you would work more with ASX-listed companies etc
- Make it real for me… a company wants to buy another company so you help do the legal due diligence on the target company, prepare the sale document, prepare paperwork to obtain regulatory or shareholder approvals and essentially prepare documents for the entire process.
Litigation or Dispute Resolution: this is a huge group that encompasses a lot of more specialist dispute resolution teams including class actions, international arbitration, construction etc.
- What do I do… you help clients with disputes, prepare legal advice and sometimes go to court / mediation.
- Make it real for me… a client comes to you after receiving an angry email from one of their shareholders. In it, the shareholder claims that the Board of the client has engaged in fraudulent practices and is threatening to them to ASIC.
Banking and Finance: another massive area that includes a range of sub-groups that do vastly different things underpinned by the fact that they all work very closely with banks and financial institutions.
- What do I do… you either act for the bank or the borrower in connection with financing something e.g. a merger, airplanes, infrastructure, assets etc. Each subject has its own unique risk profile that you will need to consider.
- Make it real for me… your client is a real estate developer and they want to construct a new building. This requires a lot of money. You will help the develop prepare documents to obtain finance from the bank and generally the building will be used as security for the funds.
Equity Capital Markets (ECM) or Debt Capital Markets (DCM): the ECM and DCM teams typically sit in different teams (the former being in M&A and the latter being in Banking & Finance) but your role is focused on capital raisings (whether equity or debt).
- What do I do… you help document and run the process for a company that wants to raise money through issuing shares or bonds.
- Make it real for me… your ASX-listed client is looking to raise capital through a rights issue to make an acquisition and needs to raise $500m from new and existing institutional and retail investors. You help prepare the documentation for the transaction, including the investor presentation, retail offer booklet and any risk disclosures by the company.
- What do I do… usually bundled together, you advise on intellectual property law (e.g. trademarks, patents, copyright) and IT related law including data security and privacy. This team will also help prepare and negotiate commercial contracts that are used for the day-to-day operation of a business such as master services agreements.
- Make it real for me… a client wants to outsource its entire HR department. You will help prepare the outsourcing agreement and generally document the separation of this internal function from the main business. Taking a more IP slant, if a client was collaborating with another company to develop new technology, you might assist them with negotiating intellectual property rights for that product.
- What do I do… you’ll be liaising a lot with the ACCC to determine whether certain activities are anti-competitive or where consumer rights may be infringed. The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 is your bible.
- Make it real for me… your ASX-listed client owns 60% of the market share in its industry and wants to acquire a large competitor that may essentially give it a monopoly. You will help them consult with the ACCC to determine whether this is feasible or not.
- What do I do… consists of upstream (funds formation) or downstream (helping funds invest)
- Make it real for me… an ASX-listed company comes to you and wants to establish a new fund to invest in Australian meme pages. You will help them prepare the fund establishment documents and provide any regulatory advice relating to this.
- What do I do… you prepare employment-law related advice, advise on compliance with employment law and manage HR disputes that are too difficult for internal legal to handle
- Make it real for me… a start-up comes to you with a complaint that their classification of their staff as contractors is incorrect. You will have to help them figure out whether they should be classed as employees under the law.
- What do I do… you help clients buy and sell property and work out other real estate related issues that arise from leases, mortgages, easements etc
- Make it real for me… your client wants to sell ANZ Tower to an offshore bidder. You will need to help them navigate the paperwork and regulatory hurdles around this process.
- What do I do… you advise companies on tax law (no one really understands tax law apart from tax lawyers
- Make it real for me… your company wants to do an internal restructure and you have been brought in to work out how to do this in the most tax-efficient way.
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