“Business law” means many things. It is not a term generally used by practicing lawyers, at least not among themselves. And when they say “corporate law,” they don’t use that as a substitute for business law; it means something more specific. You need to be more specific too. Thinking about the typical areas of practice will probably help. Lawyers whom laypeople might call “business lawyers” or “corporate lawyers” tend to distinguish a few types, some of which overlap, such as: (a) corporate, or corporate and securities; (b) M&A (i.e., mergers and acquisitions); (c) commercial; (d) bankruptcy; (e) real estate; and (f) tax. Outside of transactional practice, there is a large world of commercial litigation and arbitration, where lawyers deal with many of these same issues but from a litigation standpoint. Sometimes, practice is more regulatory, especially (but not exclusively) in Washington: bank regulation is among the most obvious, but in very real ways you would probably consider as business lawyers many people who practice in health law, communications law, energy law, and intellectual property. Of course employment law and labor law are crucial to businesses as well, and antitrust issues arise in a variety of ways. On top of all of that, almost all of these subjects exist in international practice too, whether in transactions, finance, or litigation and arbitration. Indeed, AU WCL has a Center on International Commercial Arbitration that is among the most prominent in the world, and the curriculum covers both commercial and investment disputes.
You will find here a listing of courses organized largely by practice areas. Keep in mind that you should explore areas of the curriculum covered under several fields; a fair number of lawyers will work in more than one area. Finally, a note of reassurance: you do not need to have any background in business to be successful studying or practicing business law. You can learn here what you need to learn.
Foundational Courses. Often students are looking for a list of “core” courses, with the idea that study begins with them and then builds out into more specialized areas. That is sensible enough. Here are arguably some of the “core” business courses, regardless of specialization: Business Associations (corporations and other business entities), Federal Personal Income Tax (the basic tax course, which covers the key concepts applicable beyond individuals), Secured Transactions (to a large degree, this is about the law of lending and is crucial in a credit economy), and Securities Regulation (which is mainly about SEC regulation of stocks and bonds, and which has nothing to do with Secured Transactions, despite the similar names). There are a number of other basic courses as well, including Corporate Finance, Creditors’ Rights in Bankruptcy, and UCC courses like Negotiable Instruments and Sales. Some information on these other courses follows.
UCC courses. The Sales course covers sales of goods, focusing on Article 2 of the UCC. It is particularly important for students whose 1L Contracts course did not include much Article 2, or for students who had a tough time in Contracts. In addition, students who liked Contracts often enjoy Sales; the courses are similar. Negotiable Instruments analyzes the methods and mechanisms by which a party’s written promise to pay, or written order to a third party (such as a bank) to pay, can be conveyed through the stream of commerce, and the liabilities of different parties in such a document’s chain of transmission. These lessons have immediate practical value to anyone using checks; include concepts that are of use in a number of other law school courses; and (depending on the state) can be very helpful for bar preparation.
Securities Regulation is something you really have to take if you’re interested in corporate law. (It is not quite as crucial for commercial law.) Securities are how businesses raise much of their money. You have to know how the system is regulated, and it is highly regulated.
Corporate Finance is another basic course in corporate law. How is it, exactly, that the businesses raise money? How do you think about a debt transaction versus an equity transaction? These are essential questions. They are answered in this course.
General business knowledge. You ought to be able to understand financial statements, which means that you need to understand basic accounting. Accounting is the language of business; you must speak the language of the world where your career will be. This is just as true for commercial litigators as transactional lawyers; you will never figure out damages in commercial cases until you can read the financial statements. If you do not have basic accounting, you should take Law and Accounting. This may be the piece of advice we hear most often from practicing business lawyers.
Gaining experience is an important part of your legal education just as learning substantive law in the classroom is. Counseling clients and working in legal settings will give you invaluable skills that will transfer across a wide variety of practice areas, and we offer a tremendous range of opportunities. Our clinics, including those that work in business areas, are among the best in the world. Some clinics have a transactional orientation, such as the Community and Economic Development Law Clinic; others focus on litigation, including the Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic which concentrates on tax disputes, and the Civil Advocacy Clinic, which represents individuals in bankruptcy and other consumer matters.
Aside from clinics, the law school offers an extraordinary number of externships in business law. This is a rare opportunity: as externships must be governmental or nonprofit, they can be difficult to find in business fields. Our Washington location, however, allows us to offer externships with agencies ranging from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Association of Surety Bond Producers, among dozens of other federal agencies and trade associations. Details on placement possibilities are available through the Externship Office. In addition, a number of courses offer intensive skills development, like drafting transaction documents and negotiating international business deals. Do not miss the chance to learn these skills that are so valued, both by clients and by the bar.