What is it like to be a corporate lawyer?


Someone asked me whether being in corporate practice is less stressful and less hectic than being in litigation practice.

I think this kind of generalisation is not particularly helpful.
Different law firms have different cultures and expectations of their lawyers. Clients’ demand would also determine whether a particular project or piece of work is hectic.

Corporate practice may vary a lot depending on which areas within corporate practice you specialise in. If you are doing transactional corporate work, it is unlikely that you would go home on time. This applies not just to corporate practice.

This post is not to glorify being busy, but I hope sharing my own experience would give some insights into corporate practice.

When I was a junior associate, I was seated in an open area together with other associates. We could see what each other was up to in the open area. The litigation lawyers, conveyancing lawyers, banking lawyers and corporate lawyers all had their share of staying late to meet urgent deadlines.

Occasionally, a stressed lawyer lost his/her temper on the phone and the area became silent for a while.

There was an occasion when I was alone in office past midnight to finish up work before going on a vacation. Whenever I travelled with my friends, they kindly planned most of the trips because I was caught up in transactions and could not keep up with their planning discussions in Whatsapp groupchats. I was pretty much “sleepwalking” on the first day of trips due to lack of sleep.

Most corporate lawyers (and probably lawyers in other practice areas as well) would have the experience of working during weekends and public holidays including Labour Day.

I had a lot of such experience in my early years of practice. I started on Saturdays and thought I would not need to work the entire weekend. When Sunday evenings arrived, I would still be poring over the legal due diligence documents or agreements I was working on. I would dash to the nearby supermarket to do my grocery shopping on Sunday evenings and that would conclude my weekends.

Choosing corporate practice over litigation practice based on the assumption that corporate is less stressful or less hectic may not be wise.


First posted on Linkedin on 13 December 2021.

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