Most Lucrative: Corporate Law

You’ve likely heard that there is all sorts of M&A activity these days. That’s mergers and acquisitions, and that means business is good if you’re a corporate attorney.

Remember those raises to $180,000 for first-year associates, led by Cravath? They’re being driven primarily by large corporate deals.

In corporate law, attorneys also deal with issuing securities and all the other transactions that come with business growth. Corporate teams at law firms are growing, Robert Half Legal reports. There are also more in-house legal jobs to handle the everyday corporate issues, including regulations. (Compliance is another hot area to consider.)

Outside counsel may be hired for specialized legal work, and they’re seeing bigger and bigger paychecks. According to the CounselLink report, outside counsel fees spent on M&A transactions both in 2014 and in 2015 were more than twice those reported in 2012.

PayScale’s analysis found attorneys in corporate, business and M&A law could see a pay rate 8 percent higher than the median.

The CounselLink study reported that 72 percent of M&A transactions were done by firms with more than 500 lawyers. The report attributed the high pay in M&A law to high demand, high lawyer rates and a high percentage of partner hours.

“As demand for M&A expertise has grown, those partners with significant experience in this practice have been able to command higher rates,” the report said. The 90th percentile partner rate grew from $903 per hour in 2012 to $1,032 per hour three years later. The median partner rate in M&A was $629 per hour.

The report also found that median partner rates in the areas of corporate, general and tax (separate from mergers and acquisitions) increased more than 4 percent in the past year.

Of course, corporate law is an area with high ups and downs.

“Corporate law is really at the mercy of what’s going on in the economy,” Fontaine said. “If there are no deals going on, then attorneys aren’t making a whole lot.”

Keep your fingers crossed that business keeps booming.

“I wish we had a crystal ball,” Volkert said. “Anything can happen in the market.”

Fortunately, there is a bright spot. When the M&A side dries up, bankruptcy and litigation practices tend to get busier.

“Outside some significant market recession, I would anticipate those three being in high demand,” Volkert said.