Commercial law is sometimes referred to as business law or corporate law. It focuses on the laws that govern commerce, trade, sales and merchandising, as well as the businesses and individuals who participate in those activities.
A division of civil law, commercial law encompasses a range of topics such as corporation law, securities and deviations law, finance and banking, taxation law, trade practices law and consumer law. Commercial lawyers are often expected to help their clients navigate and address issues affecting the business world. These might include globalisation, deregulation, tax reform and shifting trade relationships between different regions.
Australian commercial law is derives its authority from various sources. The Corporations Act 2001 (simplified with the Corporate Law Economic Reform Program Act 2004) sets out the laws which govern how companies are formed, and how they must operate, both internally and in their interactions with other businesses. This statute is administered by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
Commercial lawyers also deal with industry codes of practice - that is, regulatory frameworks developed for use within specific industries. Some examples include the Australian Banking Association’s Code of Banking Practice and the Insurance Council of Australia Limited’s General Insurance Code of Practice.
Finally, commercial lawyers often draw on legal sources relevant to specific issues facing their clients. For example, they may refer to taxation legislation, trade laws, and industrial relations laws.
Commercial law experience can be obtained as a graduate in small and boutique firms or much larger top-tier firms. Your approach to, and involvement in, a specific transaction will depend on your supervisor and the number of people in your team. Day-to-day life may also include liaising with large corporate clients and attending business meetings or working independently to re-draft contracts.
As a graduate, you may have the opportunity to work on large transactions that involve well-known Australian and international organisations. This can be particularly rewarding for graduates who have an interest in the corporate world, or enjoy working with commercial transactions and contracts. The downside is that, if you’re working with an international client, you may find yourself scheduling meetings at odd hours to accommodate the needs of stakeholders in different timezones.
The Big Six law firms - Allens, Ashurst, Clayton Utz, Herbert Smith Freehills, King & Wood Mallesons and Minter Ellison - are all commercial law firms, and depend upon the recruitment of talented graduates for the maintenance of their world-class reputations. However, a variety of alternative, and equally stimulating, opportunities exist at smaller firms. Graduates can also pursue in-house employment with a range of organisations that engage in commercial transactions.
Commercial law is broad and offers numerous paths for ambitious graduates who wish to advance in their careers. It can take many years to become a partner at a prestigious commercial firm, and to achieve this goal you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re a talented lawyer with strong client relationships, business acumen, leadership potential, and, perhaps most importantly, proof that you’d make a profitable addition to the firm’s uppermost echelon. However, there are other ways to progress as a commercial lawyer, from rising to a senior position as an in-house counsel to securing more compelling clients and working on larger, more complex transactions.