Commercial lawyers are solicitors who advise companies and governments on business-related issues.

This covers a vast range work, and commercial law firms are divided up into departments, known as practice areas, where the lawyers specialise in a particular type of work.

As mentioned in the previous section, Introducing a career in commercial law, they can either be transactional lawyers, meaning they draw up and review the legal documents that underpin the deals their clients are working on, or contentious lawyers, meaning they help their clients resolve disputes with other parties. Some practice areas have both types of lawyers.

The main practice areas of a commercial law firm

Corporate

Companies must comply with both their own constitutional documents and with the law applicable to all companies, and corporate lawyers make sure their clients’ activities are in accordance with these.

They also prepare the legal documents required for corporate activities and the transactions clients undertake (such as a restructuring or an acquisition), and act as project managers on these, making sure the legal aspects run smoothly and on schedule.

Read the full explanation of the work done by corporate lawyers, including an interview with corporate partner at Freshfields.

Finance and banking

Finance lawyers ensure that their clients are legally protected against the risks involved in a financing deal – lenders risk losing their money and borrowers risk problems arising from the obligations they’ll have taken on in return for the finance provided by lenders.

They draft or review the legal documents needed and make sure all legal steps required for funding have taken place, particularly that the borrower has fulfilled the conditions to the funds being granted. 

Banking lawyers also advise their clients on legal issues that come up in relation to financing arrangements already in place.

Read the full description of the work done by banking and finance lawyers, including an interview with banking partner at Dentons.

Dispute resolution

Dispute resolution lawyers advise their clients on the law relating to disputes in which they're involved and on dispute resolution strategy.

If these disputes progress to formal proceedings, they’ll draft the necessary legal documents and guide their client through a trial or any other hearings.

Some senior dispute resolution lawyers may act as arbitrators or mediators.

Dispute resolution lawyers also advise transactional colleagues on how to help their clients avoid, or minimise the negative effects of, potential future disputes in relation to their deals.

Read our full explanation of the work done by dispute resolution and litigation lawyers, including in interview with a partner at Slaughter and May.

Other practice areas

The majority of lawyers at large commercial law firms work in corporate, finance and dispute resolution, but other smaller departments – for example, employment, EU, IP, real estate and tax – are also found.

A significant part of the work that these departments do is advising colleagues when legal issues in their area come up in their deals or disputes.

They also train lawyers in other departments on their area of law, and let them know about important changes in it.

Lawyers in these departments may also have their own clients and their own deals or disputes. Their work on these might resemble those of their colleagues in corporate, finance, or litigation and dispute resolution.

For example, lawyers in property departments working on the sale of a commercial building will work in a similar way to corporate lawyers working on the sale of a company. Employment lawyers acting for clients involved in disputes will go through similar court or tribunal processes to their colleagues in litigation.