How will my career as a commercial lawyer progress?

Starting a career in commercial law as a graduate opens up many opportunities.

Starting a career in commercial law as a graduate opens up many opportunities. 

You could aim to become a partner, or reach another senior position at a commercial law firm, such as counsel. 

Another popular option is to progress within the legal department of a business or into a more general senior business role. 

As an experienced commercial lawyer, you'd also be very well-equipped to start your own business. 

Here's a guide to some of your options if you start a career in commercial law:

Career goals in commercial law


Most commercial law firms are partnerships where each partner, usually a respected senior lawyer with a significant number of their own profitable client relationships, owns a portion of the business in return for making a financial investment in it when they are invited to join the partnership.

Some partnerships operate in a very collegiate fashion with decisions discussed and made collectively by all partners. Others operate more like companies, appointing a committee of partners to manage the firm.


A counsel or lawyer "of counsel" is a senior lawyer at a law firm.

Counsels may be potential future partners, senior lawyers without the client following required for partnership, or senior lawyers who have chosen not to take on the huge responsibilities and time commitments that being a partner involves, though they may well still have significant management duties.

In-house general counsel

An in-house general counsel leads the legal team at a large corporate or financial institution. 

The typical route into an in-house role is to work for a client as an external adviser or secondee and then transfer in-house, though it's also possible to train and progress as a lawyer entirely in-house.

A senior business role

Some experienced commercial lawyers choose to use their legal and commercial expertise within a business.

For example, commercial lawyers with corporate and commercial experience could be well-suited to operations roles, while a dispute resolution lawyer could use their skills in risk management. Many commercial lawyers gain some marketing and sales experience, so there's potential to move to work in these areas.


Many commercial lawyers acquire the skills and knowledge required to set up and grow their own business.

For example, the theory behind how companies are established and governed is a key part of the training all commercial lawyers receive, while hands-on business management becomes an increasingly significant part of any commercial lawyer's job as they progress.

Building relationships with clients as a junior lawyer

Whatever your career goal as a commercial lawyer, building relationships with clients is likely to help you progress – here's how to start doing it as a junior lawyer.

Don’t be scared to talk to clients

Always contact clients if you have questions or concerns. And if you’ve been working closely with a junior person at a client organisation, why not ask them to go for a coffee after the deal is done to get to know them better?

Go on secondment

Working within a client organisation yourself will help you understand their needs, build your contact book – and could even open the door to a permanent move in-house.

Keep in touch with people you meet in the legal and business worlds

University friends, fellow vacation scheme students, and other trainees could all be valuable client contacts one day.

Work-life balance

Whatever path your career takes, you'll find that the legal sector is taking work-life balance and flexible working increasingly seriously.

So, while working in commercial law usually means a challenging and intense career, you should be able to find some space for the rest of your life too.

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