BlogCareersWhat Does a Commercial Lawyer Do? | Roles, Skills, Advice

What Does a Commercial Lawyer Do? | Roles, Skills, Advice

So, you’re interested in a career as a commercial lawyer?

But perhaps you’re curious to find out what the job actually involves? What do commercial lawyers actually do and how do you become one?

We’re sure you’ve got lots of questions which is why we’ve had a chat with someone who has a lot of experience in the industry and really knows what a career in commercial law looks like! 

So, let’s take a closer look at all the details! 

Meet Angus
What is a Commercial Lawyer?
Steps to Becoming a Commercial Lawyer
Future Outlook
Best Thing & Worst Thing
Advice for Aspiring Commercial Lawyers

Meet Angus

How did you end up in this role?

Angus Foley is currently working as a senior partner and is head of infrastructure for Asia Pacific at the global law firm Ashurst. He has been working at this firm for more than seven years and specialises as a transaction lawyer, concerning infrastructure projects that his clients want to do. 

Studies and Experience

Angus completed an undergraduate law degree at Oxford University and was admitted as a solicitor in 1995. He worked as a lawyer for five years before starting a Masters in Law at Sydney University.

He then spent a few years working for banks and completed a postgraduate certificate in Applied Finance. Later on, Angus made a return to commercial law.

What made you want to work in this industry?

Well, Angus did very well in the HSC, however he knew medicine wasn’t for him so he thought law sounded interesting. 

I didn’t at the time have a good appreciation of the breadth of all the different jobs in law,” he said. 

He told us that he enjoyed commerce and business at the time. Lawyers have a great position in these transactions and so I thought that would be a good thing,” he explained.

“Some people like it for status but for me, it was just getting in and being a part of these deals,” he said.  

Learn more about the different types of roles you can take on after studying a Bachelor of Laws here!

What is a Commercial Lawyer?

Now, that’s a good question! Angus answers it for us very well:

“A simple answer is commercial lawyers give advice to clients who are either looking to achieve commercial transactions or settle commercial disputes and so where that really focusses on is the business community.”

As a commercial lawyer, a big part of your job is handling transactions and managing paperwork as well as working alongside your clients to help them achieve what they want and finding solutions for their problems. It’s about managing a range of various corporate deals. 

Now, there are different paths that you can follow when it comes to being a commercial lawyer — you usually have to specialise in something. 

What Does a Commercial Lawyer Do - Quote

Roles and Responsibilities

A typical day for Angus looks like this:

  • Calls and meetings with clients
  • Drafting document transactions (as Angus is Senior Partner, he actually checks what other people are drafting or checks what other people are checking)
  • Try to find new work 
  • Research and education (giving a lecture to the whole team on a specific topic) 

He told us that looking for new work involves talking to existing clients or new clients about their upcoming projects and trying to secure a spot on that”.

Which industries can this career be found in?

There are quite a few different industries that involve lawyers. The main ones include:

  • Legal services
  • Self-employed
  • Local government
  • State government
  • Federal government

Characteristics and Qualities

What Does a Commercial Lawyer Do - Characteristics

When Angus was asked about the skills involved with a career in commercial law, he said, “I think the skills that you need is being able to analyse problems, find solutions and help clients articulate what they want to do and then what would be a success for them.

Angus also mentioned that teamwork and management skills are important, especially as you get into a more senior position at a law firm where you’ve got people to manage. 

I’ve got 100 lawyers in my team across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and we do some pretty big transactions,” he said. 

According to JobOutlook, the top 5 knowledge, skills, abilities and activities that are relevant to solicitors include:

CharacteristicsTypes Required
KnowledgeEnglish language, law and government, customer and personal service, administration and management, personnel and human resources
SkillsReading comprehension, speaking, critical thinking, writing, active listening
AbilitiesOral expression, oral comprehension, written comprehension, written expression, near vision
ActivitiesNegotiating and resolving conflicts, researching and investigating, checking compliance with standards, looking for changes over time, making decisions and solving problems

Steps to Becoming a Commercial Lawyer

What should you study? 

If you want to become a commercial lawyer, then you should study a Bachelor of Laws. 

Check out the following law degrees offered at:

Or perhaps you’ve got your eyes set on Law at Oxford (where Angus completed his undergraduate degree).   

How long does it take to become a Commercial Lawyer?

An undergraduate degree in Law takes 4 years — some students will go on to complete a Masters in Law, however this is not necessary in order for you to become a lawyer. So, it’s completely up to you!

After completing your university studies, you then have to complete your Practical Learning Training (PLT) and then you have to apply for admission to the Supreme Court.

You then have to apply for your Practicing Certificate (like a license) which basically means you can officially practise as a lawyer. However, during your first 18-24 months, you’ll be supervised.

It’s good to keep in mind that you have to complete your PLT within five years of finishing uni!

Industry Knowledge 

In terms of specific programs used in law, Angus told us, Sometimes in project management documents, AI is making an entry into law.

Ashurst, has a proprietary system, which on our large documents — which sometimes can be 1000 pages — in effect proofreads the entire document for us and points out inconsistencies or problems,” he explained. 

Now, that sounds like a very useful program to have — especially when there’s hundreds of pages to proofread. 

What will this career look like in the future?

How in-demand is this career?

According to JobOutlook, the future growth of people needed in this career is “very strong”. Now, that’s very good news for you if you’re thinking of studying law! However, at the same time, getting those graduate jobs can be very competitive! 

I think there are a lot of people applying from universities to get into the firm and there’s relatively few starting roles,” Angus said. 

At the same time, he mentioned that “there’s more than one entrance to every building”.

People can come to law later after doing something else in a different avenue and so we do employ people who’ve been in house councils and they want to come back to a law firm, or they’ve done something for the government,” he explained. 

Are there opportunities to grow or specialise? 

The answer is — yes! Angus said there are “continual” opportunities to grow. He’s now a senior partner and has 100 lawyers in his team! 

You do have to specialise when it comes to commercial law because as Angus said, “It’s not really possible to be a generalist”. 

In-house councils have the most breadth because they have to deal with all the problems that their companies have but working in a commercial law firm, that’s not an option,” he said. 

The more you specialise, the more valuable often your advice becomes and your services become to a point,” he added. 


Annual SalaryFuture GrowthSkill Level Rating
$85,000+Very strong over the next 5 yearsVery high skill

The Future of the Industry

Angus told us that the future of ‘Big Law’ (the name for large commercial law firms) is “quite hotly debated”.

“The approach is continuous specialisation, continual increasing complexity and challenges to the model from people like accounting firms, from the in-house councils, from boutique startups,” he said. 

Best Thing & Worst Thing

What do you enjoy most about this job?

“I really like the fact that we work on things that you can then see and so one of my projects was Northconnex, so I can now drive through the Northconnex tunnel and that’s really good,” Angus said.

“You see things like, when Northconnex was being built, there’s 5000 people working on it so that project that I helped create, employed 5000 people at a time and now, it’s a great piece of infrastructure for Northwest Sydney so that’s what I really enjoy,” he said. 

What do you feel is the worst part of this job?

“The worst part is probably the long hours, which are driven by the client’s demands,” Angus said.

He told us that there is more flexibility around when you get to do those hours which helps, however “there’s sort of no getting away from the long hours”. 

Angus also mentioned that the stress of the job can be a challenge “because a lot of people take on the stresses of the problems that their clients have”.  

Advice for Aspiring Commercial Lawyers

What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?

Angus wished he had kept in better contact with all the people he met at different stages of his career. 

“What I’ve seen is that people take all different career paths and become in-house, go work for the government or become barristers or do something else and leave it all together,” he said.  

“I think for me, keeping in better contact with people that you pass in your career would have been good because lawyers go into all sorts of really interesting areas of business, commerce, government and all the rest of it,” Angus told us. 

“If someone had said, ‘hey, keep hold of that buddy’, because he could be someone interesting, I think I would have done a better job at keeping up with people,” he said. 

Why should people consider taking on this career?

“I think this career provides the opportunity for people to work hard and make a valuable contribution in business and in commerce,” Angus said.

“I think it’s a job that really gives you that scope to be able to have an important role in often important things that are going on,” he added. 

Tips for Getting Started in the Industry

Angus has some great tips for getting started in the industry! 

The first tip — a very important one if you’re serious about a career in commercial law! So, Angus spoke with us about the most common pathway to get into the industry which involves applying to do a summer clerkship during the holidays between your second last and last year of university. 

This means that you get six weeks of experience with the firm which is important because this clerkship can lead to a potential job. 

Angus told us, “Most people who do that get offered a job as a lawyer which you then start at the end of the year that you graduate.” 

Angus’ advice was to “be very careful” as some students will choose to go travelling during this time which means they miss out on the main intake! 

“That’s a big thing for people to appreciate when they’re entering commercial law firms, that there’s this quite rigid process for how you get in,” he said. You really don’t want to miss out because it can set you up for the future. 

The second tip: it’s a great degree to have behind you even if you don’t end up practising law! “Law is a great general course to study in any event,” Angus said.

I have a number of friends who are bankers or other things, who got a law degree and never became a practicing lawyer but they still find those skills helpful,” he told us.

Job Flexibility 

Good news — as mentioned above, the long work hours are becoming more flexible.

“I’ve got people in my team who are young mums, they work until three o’clock, pick their child up from school and then log back on at six o’clock after dinner,” Angus said. 

So, at the end of the day, as long as you’re getting in those hours, the ‘when’ you’re getting those hours done is fairly flexible! 

What is the workplace culture like?

Well, apart from the workplace culture of course being a professional office environment, Angus told us that it’s also quite intellectual and diverse. So, you’ve got men and women and people from different backgrounds all working together.

Tanna Nankivell is a Senior Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and is currently in Germany completing a year of study for her double degree in Communications (Journalism) and Bachelor of Arts (International Studies). She has had articles published on Central News – the UTS Journalism Lab and wrote a feature piece for Time Out Sydney during her internship. Tanna has a love for travel and the great outdoors, you’ll either find her on the snowfields or in the ocean, teaching aqua aerobics or creating short films.

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