Careers in Business Law
Careers in business law are as varied as the average gathering of law students. There are jobs suitable to every temperament and disposition; as in other areas of practice, litigators generally spend much of their time taking depositions and arguing cases in court, while transactional attorneys draft contracts and facilitate deals. This is true for a range of business attorneys in areas such as international trade, bankruptcy and restructuring, patents and copyrights, and corporate and partnership taxation. But beyond this essential yet basic division lie myriad possibilities. Almost every variety of legal practice has a business component, whether it is family law where assets are split and allotted, or public interest law where attorneys grapple with the tax code. It is hard, in fact, to find a line of work where a business lawyer cannot make a career. Given the extent to which commerce underwrites modern life, it is simply impossible to overrate the importance of a business law education to aspiring attorneys.
Judging by the successful careers of a number of Lewis & Clark Law School graduates, the key requisites to practicing business law are preparation, creativity, imagination, and a willingness to lead change. Cases in point include Laura Warf ’12 and Holly Martinez ’19, both of whom accepted offers out of law school from large Portland law firms. Laura works as a transactional attorney, while Holly is a commercial litigator. Working at large firms affords attorneys early in their careers the chance to explore areas of practice before deciding whether to specialize.
Some graduates have taken jobs in order to develop essential skills with an eye to careers involving business. Elizabeth Schmitt ’18 prosecuted felony cases with the Maricopa County (Arizona) Attorney’s Office before joining the Arizona Corporation Commission, where she enforces investment and securities laws. David Howitt ’94 of the Meriwether Group, tried cases for the District Attorney’s Office of Multnomah County and then worked for a large law firm before creating a venue for his entrepreneurial passions and personal vision.
The entertainment industry is particularly rich in opportunities to pursue or create a career in business law. Joel Andrew ’16 began spending time on weekends in the mailroom of CD Baby; now, as General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs, he wields considerable influence in the alternative music community. Mark Tratos ’79 works in Las Vegas representing entertainers like Ozzy Osbourne and David Copperfield, and estates such as those of Jackie Robinson and Marilyn Monroe.
The Center for Business Law & Innovation offers special certificates in four fields, business law, intellectual property, tax, and, in cooperation with our environmental and natural resources law program, energy, innovation, and sustainability, which students earn by concentrating their course work in one of these areas. The value of these certificates, and the expertise they signify to employers and clients, can be gauged by the career of Jerry Carleton ’07. The Special Certificate in Tax that Jerry earned from Lewis & Clark Law School helped him found the Immix Group, where as Principal he counsels corporations on a wide range of essential issues. Knowledgeable Portland tax attorney Dan Eller ’04 not only practices business law at a major firm, but also teaches in Lewis & Clark’s tax program, thus combining his interests in legal practice and higher education.
The careers of Lewis & Clark graduates demonstrate that a business law education opens numerous avenues to vital and enriching professional experiences. Ambyr O’Donnell ’01, for example, has been able to make a career out of her evolving interest in advising entrepreneurial business ventures in their earliest stages. After lending her expertise to several businesses, she now serves as Vice President, Legal and Business Development of a recently founded human insight platform. Few careers better illustrate the versatility that a business law concentration makes possible than that of Lee Matthews ’73. Lee has used his business law education over the years to work in a variety of areas, ranging from real estate, foreign trade, and government investigative commissions, to personal representation, dispute resolution, and diplomacy. Lee demonstrates the power of business law to pull disparate matters into its orbit, thereby allowing practitioners to offer invaluably comprehensive services.
Lewis & Clark graduates have found opportunities to practice business law in regulatory agencies, law enforcement, government, entertainment, accounting firms, nonprofits, consulting, utilities, sports companies, and a number of other ventures. Few fields, legal or otherwise, can claim so readily to accommodate professional talent and ambition. Variegated in the extreme, careers in business law offer fulfillment to those attorneys craving autonomy as well as those seeking the influence that comes with working at a major firm, those desiring focus and consistency as well as those after variety and change, those who value legal specialization as well as those seeking entrepreneurial exploration.