How to Choose a Corporate Law Program

If you’re fascinated by the many areas of law that affect for-profit companies, such as employment or labor law, and you hope to represent influential multinational corporations someday, that goal is something to keep in mind when choosing a law school.

Some business attorneys focus on adversarial litigation while others concentrate on deal-making and negotiation. Business attorneys could also concentrate on creating legal paperwork, setting company policies or ensuring compliance with government regulations.

Brock Jacobi, a third-year student at the Law Center at Georgetown University knew he wanted to specialize in transactional law before he entered a law school classroom. He chose his J.D. program because of its academic quality, alumni network and many business-related courses.

Jacobi enrolled in an affordable housing transactions law clinic, so he could master a vital skill for corporate lawyers — drafting documents — and thereby stand out in job interviews.

[READ: Why Big Law Firms Care About Which Law School You Attend]

The strategy worked. Upon graduation from Georgetown, Jacobi was employed full-time with Schulte Roth & Zabel, where he worked as a summer associate during law school. He spent more than four years at that corporate law firm before transferring directly to another large law firm, Paul Hastings.

Here are four signs that a law school prepares its graduates to thrive in corporate law firms:

— Successful alumni.

— Good academic reputation.

— Strong curriculum.

— Respect for corporate lawyers.

Successful alumni

Prospective law students should identify schools with a history of getting graduates jobs in corporate law, Jacobi suggests. If you attend a school with a strong reputation, there is less stress about grades, he says.

One way to gain insight into how hard it is for a particular school’s graduates to find corporate law jobs is to ask recent graduates who work in that sector how high their GPA was, according to Jacobi. If the GPA the graduates give is uniformly near-perfect, Jacobi says, that is a sign of trouble, since it suggests that you might need to be at the top of the class at that school to land a gig at a big law firm.

He recommends looking at a school’s employment report to find out the proportion of alumni who are hired by large law firms.

Good Academic Reputation

School prestige ought to be a consideration for future lawyers who dream of a corporate law career, experts say.

Lisa Bertrand Brathwaite, a law school admissions counselor and learning analyst with Odyssey Test Prep, puts it this way: “I always tell students, if you want to work for a big law firm, the easiest path is to get top grades from a top school and be perfectly poised and polished during the interview,” she wrote in an email.

[READ: How to Pick the Right Law School]

Brathwaite says that going to a law school without name recognition doesn’t preclude a corporate law career, but it does make getting your foot in the door harder. Stellar academic performance is necessary to compete with graduates of more prestigious schools, she says.

J.D. students who are chosen to write for a law review and earn exceptional grades at lesser-known schools often make the cut for first-year associate positions, she says.

Strong Curriculum

One indication of how well a law school prioritizes corporate law can be discovered by looking at the makeup of its faculty, according to Peter Antonoplos, a corporate lawyer and managing partner at Antonoplos & Associates. It is a good sign if the school has adjuncts who are prominent corporate attorneys and full-time professors who are experts in aspects of corporate law, such as contracts or mergers and acquisitions.

Another asset in a corporate law program is a variety of course offerings, so that students will be prepared to help clients through diverse situations — everything from initial public offerings to bankruptcies.

[SEE: Best Business Law Programs

According to Jacobi, law school clinics are a major plus in a J.D. curriculum because they give students practical experience to highlight in job interviews. When interviewing job candidates, Jacobi usually discusses their clinical experiences.

“The clinics really do come up,” he says, “and they’re a really good talking point to have.”

Respect for Corporate Lawyers

There is an important distinction between law schools with a culture that celebrates accomplishment in the corporate law sector and schools with a culture that regards corporate work as mercenary, according to Harrison Barnes, CEO of the legal recruiting firm BCG Attorney Search.

Barnes says some schools focus so heavily on legal theory and public policy that they neglect private sector legal issues. He says the root of this discrepancy between law schools is that some schools have a cultural bias toward public interest law, which some law professors view as a higher calling than private sector law.

“The better the law school sometimes, the less seriously they take law firm work, because they believe they are better than it,” Barnes says.

One way to get a sense of a school’s culture and the value it places on corporate law, Barnes says, is to visit the school and discuss your interest in corporate law with current students.

Barnes says the right law school for future corporate lawyers is one that trains them to happily serve the needs of business clients.

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