Overview of Business Careers

Each year a handful of YLS students pursue business internships for the summer and entry-level positions after graduation. Typically 10% of our graduates are working in a business setting five years after graduating law school. The opportunities in business vary greatly from being an attorney within an in-house group to pursuing a non-practicing business role. Students are encouraged to meet with a counselor in CDO to discuss the particular business role they are interested in and to create a job search strategy specific to that industry and role. The following section briefly discussed the most popular business careers pursued by YLS students and alumni, including in-house legal practice, consulting, and finance.

For a more detailed discussion about each of these careers, refer to the Lawyers in Business Guide

In-House Legal Practice

Opportunities to work in-house in most cases arise after at least three or four years of practice. Before deciding to pursue in-house opportunities, attorneys should carefully consider what it means to practice in-house and how it differs from law firm or public sector practice.

Attorneys who practice at law firms usually cite two reasons for considering the transition. First is the opportunity to gain greater control over work hours. While in-house attorneys work long hours, they often are able to better predict their schedules because they have a greater sense of impending projects. Second is the opportunity to become a stakeholder in a business, rather than just an advisor. In-house attorneys get involved with deals earlier; and in addition to being a legal advisor, they are considered business partners and are looked to for business judgments.

It is notable to mention that the reasons attorneys choose in-house positions are some of the same reasons others decide to move back to firms or public sector practice from in-house. Attorneys may find that some of the more challenging work they enjoyed in their previous practice is now handled by outside counsel, and their role is now to manage the process.

Once you have made the decision to look for an in-house position, next decide the type of organization to target. As a potential business partner, it is important for you to be excited about the industry so you will want to learn about how the company conducts business and how it stays competitive. When preparing for the transition the best thing to do is start with research. 

Finally do not underestimate the power of networking. Making the right connections through clients, trade organizations, bar associations or networking with YLS alumni can also successfully lead to an in-house opportunity.

Careers in Consulting

In the simplest definition, consultants give professional advice. In the broadest sense there are three types of consulting firms. First, are the large management consulting specialists that offer primarily strategy consulting but are not specialized in any specific industry. Second, there are boutique firms which have consulting expertise in specific industries or technologies. Finally, there are large, diversified organizations that offer a range of services, in addition to a strategy consulting practice. 

At the large management firms consultants start as generalists and may specialize in later years. Business models at firms also vary, but for many firms a large portion of the engagement, up to four days a week, is spent at the client’s site. Therefore, consulting involves a large amount of travel; however most firms will fly consultants home on weekends when feasible. 

Consulting firms seek candidates with strong analytical and quantitative skills, teamwork capability, leadership, interpersonal skills, presentation skills, energy, flexibility, maturity, and creativity. Because the large consulting firms have offices around the world, they are also interested in candidates with strong foreign language skills. Typically consulting firms will hire upperclasss students for summer and permanent positions. Like law firms, the large management consulting firms offer full-time employment to summer interns who successfully navigate the summer experience. 

Careers in Finance

The world of finance is appealing to some law students, typically those with business backgrounds, strong quantitative skills, and no fear of working long hours. Among the areas of finance that YLS students and alumni have been drawn to include the below careers:

Investment Banking
Investment banking positions are known for their competitiveness, work pressure, prestige and huge salaries. The responsibilities of investment banking associates are similar to those of a corporate law firm associate in that bankers negotiate on behalf of their clients, draft documents, and conduct due diligence. However, bankers also pitch new ideas for transactions and focus more on valuation and therefore get involved in transactions at an earlier stage. Generally speaking, investment banking associates work longer hours than law firm associates and management consultants (on average work 80-100 hours/week), and at a more hectic pace; however total compensation is usually higher.

For students interested in investment banking the first step is to learn about the industry and keep abreast of current financial news. Analytical and quantitative skills will be highly valued, so students should also consider taking courses at the Law School and/or at Yale’s School of Management.

Because investment banks typically do not hire first-year law students for summer jobs, use your first summer to gain general finance experience. Banks typically expect summer intern applications in November, conduct interviews in January, and make decisions by February.

Venture Capital
Venture capital (VC) firms invest their own money in companies in return for a hefty share of stock and future profits. Venture capitalists are more than financiers; they provide guidance, services and support to the business in which they’ve invested, and expect to be treated as partners. The work of a venture capital firm includes selecting investments, completing the relevant transactions, and managing the investments.

Most venture capital firms are quite small, ranging from one to 40 people, and the entire industry represents a very small portion of people in the field of finance. The responsibilities of an analyst or associate often includes performing research and strategic planning, negotiating and working with investment bankers and acquirers of the company, raising more money from other equity sources, and negotiating with banks for debt financing.

Ultimately, the key to landing a job with a venture capital firm is networking. There is no typical hiring cycle for these positions, and they do not normally interview on campus at schools. The most successful candidates will have experience in management consulting or investment banking, or expertise in a specific industry. As a result, you may have better success breaking into this field after a few years with another financial industry position.

Private Equity
The goal of the private equity fund is to improve the performance of a company and then sell their stake at a profit. This may be done through an initial public offering (IPO) of the company’s shares, a sale to a private buyer, or asset stripping where the company is broken up and its assets are sold.

Jobs in private equity funds are divided into distinct areas, including: number crunching; appraising and executing deals; originating deals; and support roles such as investor relations. Private equity firms make their money by selling their stakes in portfolio companies to corporate buyers or floating their stakes on the public market through IPOs. In addition, firms make money through their annual management fees, which are typically 1-2% of the total amount of the fund.

Private equity funds do not employ many people and when they do, they look for experience in investment banking or strategy consulting. For junior number crunching positions, a strong financial background is required. For more senior roles, it is helpful if you can build a strong rapport with company executives and you have experience with strategy and the requirements of running a business. As with other finance jobs, networking is the key to securing a position.

Hedge Funds
The term hedge fund was originally used to categorize institutional investment partnerships that were able to hedge market exposure, but have evolved over time to employ a wide range of investment strategies. Hedge funds vary in size from as little as two employees to as many as 500 employees. A typical hedge fund will have the following departments: operations, accounting, trading, and risk and investor relations. The responsibilities of the employees in these departments vary depending on the size of the hedge fund and its work environment.

Most law school students interested in hedge funds are best suited for the analyst role. In general, analysts are expected to make trading recommendations on their own instead of as part of a large team. Employee compensation structures vary widely, but most investment professionals at a hedge fund earn a modest salary and a larger bonus, which becomes tied to their performance and/or the overall performance of the firm.

Unfortunately, most hedge funds do not hire graduate school students straight out of school; instead they seek investment professionals with experience. Ultimately, you will likely need experience in another finance area before making the switch to a hedge fund.

Outside Resources

Association of Corporate Counsel
Consultants News 
Lawyers in Business Guide
Minority Corporate Counsel Association
The Management Consultancies Association (UK)
Vault Guide to Consulting Careers, Vault / 2007
Vault Guide to the Top 50 Management & Strategy Consulting Firms- 2009 Edition, Vault / 2008
WetFeet Insider Guide - 25 Top Consulting Firms, WetFeet Inc. / 2008
WetFeet Insider Guide to Consulting for PhDs, Lawyers, and Doctors, WetFeet Inc. / 2008 
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