Business Law: What it is (and Isn’t)

picture of briefcase with portal to another world and title of business law

What is “Business Law?”

Business Law is best thought of as an area of law that relates to the legal problems and legal opportunities facing businesses.  Lawyers who practice business law specialize in solving problems faced by businesses (e.g., how to create a contract template, how to win a lawsuit against a competitor) and helping businesses avail themselves of opportunities (e.g., patenting an invention, winning a government contract, acquiring another business).

Did you know that Business Law doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page?  Seriously, look it up.  Try googling “Business Law” and you will get an odd mishmash of information.  Why is this?

The Internet is confused about the definition of Business Law because Business Law is a way of categorizing the law from a practical, real-world standpoint rather than from an academic or theoretical perspective.  To draw an analogy, fruits are categorized by scientists based on their reproduction, for example, stone fruits, pomes, berries, citrus, and pepo (yes, I casually dropped “pepo” like it ain’t no thang).  But that categorization isn’t particularly useful if you’re say, a farmer in northeastern New York State looking to start an orchard.  That farmer wants to know what grows well in that soil and climate and how to grow it.  There is a category of fruit that meets those criteria and it doesn’t fall along some odd, scientific classification related to reproduction.

Business Law is the same way.  If a business owner has some legal problems or opportunities, they don’t think “gosh, is this a corporate law problem or a commercial law problem?”  They want a lawyer who understands business and can help them and they don’t care (nor should they) about some academic taxonomy.  There are different ways to slice and dice any collection of things, and Business Law is a way to categorize a number of different areas of the law into a single bucket.  Business Law is an aggregation of a large number of areas of the law (as such “areas” are traditionally categorized by academia, anyway).

list of traditional law categories
An example of a list of law categories. Note the conspicuous absence of Business Law.

What types of law make up Business Law?  What can a business lawyer help a business with?

Business Law includes law related to forming a business and administering it (Corporate Law), running a business (dozens and dozens of different areas of the law), and selling or dissolving a business (Corporate Law and Bankruptcy Law).  The “running a business” aspect of Business Law is huge and labyrinthine.  That aspect of Business Law can include Commercial Law, Corporate Law, Contract Law, Marketing Law, International Law, Employment Law, Privacy Law (e.g., GDPR compliance), Tax Law, Real Estate Law, and Intellectual Property Law – these really form the core of the “running a business” aspect of Business Law; they are industry-agnostic in scope (most businesses have employees, lease real estate, or enter into contracts!).

And then there are areas of the law that fall within Business Law that are industry-, sector-, or “vertical”-specific, such as Software Law, Technology Law, Healthcare Law (e.g., HIPAA compliance), Internet Law (e.g., online copyright issues such as DMCA Takedown Requests), Life Sciences Law, Arts & Entertainment Law, and Telecommunications Law.

Business Lawyers can and do help their business clients gain advantages and deal with problems in all of these areas of the law.

How do I find a lawyer who specifically practices Business Law?
I practice Business Law and you are welcome to contact me for a free consultation to discuss what’s on your mind.  Alternatively, simply searching Google or Google Maps for “Business Lawyer” is not a bad place to start.  Another good approach is to use a free online lawyer directory, such as Justia.

business law meeting

What is Business Law not?

Business Law is not an area of law that is narrow in scope and breadth.  While Business Lawyers can and do have very deep expertise in certain “areas” of the law, depending on their education, training, and experience, they are not omniscient and the likelihood of their being able to, alone, take advantage of an opportunity or solve a problem that is incredibly niche in nature, especially one that is industry-specific, is low.

For example, maybe you have a question about how and whether a state wiretapping law relates to your software-as-a-service product.  A Business Lawyer who is familiar with Software Law, such as I, can probably help you with that question.  But so too could some Privacy Lawyers.  Heck, you might even find a Criminal Lawyer able to assist.  The point is that real-world problems often do not fall neatly into the tidy categories of law often used and discussed.  A good analogy would be to think of a given business problem or opportunity as a dot on a page, and then imagine each traditional category of law as circle in a giant, 40-circle Venn diagram – the question could well be inside 3 different traditional categories of law (circles, in this analogy).

It’s also important to understand that, despite what hundreds of articles on the Internet say, Business Law is not equal to Commercial Law or Corporate Law.  They are very different things.

Business Law is also not Financial Law or Banking Law.  I really do not know where people get these ideas and why they think it’s a good idea to publish them on the Internet.  It’s almost like some of these articles are written by non-attorneys in another country working at the behest of some webmaster trying to spam low-quality content for a few clicks – humanity’s collective knowledge be damned.

person dressed in business suit walking out of cracked eggshell cartoon

How do lawyers become business lawyers?

Business lawyers are born in a couple of primary ways.  First, they can simply start by practicing Business Law itself under the tutelage of a more senior Business Lawyer, either in a law firm or by working for a corporation itself (a so-called “in-house” lawyer).  Second, they can begin by practicing in an area of law that falls within Business Law, such as Marketing Law, and eventually broaden their skill set by incrementally taking on clients or work that is adjacent to their initial area of practice but a little outside of their comfort zone (sometimes called “stretch projects” or on-the-job learning).  In this way, a specialist can become a Business Lawyer.  In fact, to use the Marketing Law example, that specialist would become a Business Lawyer with a particularly potent value-add in the Marketing space, and you might see them marketing themselves as such.

How do I know when I need a specialist rather than a Business Lawyer?

So, first of all, Business Lawyers are “specialists” insofar as they specialize in helping a certain type of client, namely businesses.  Second, Business Lawyers often have sub-specialties.  That said, the answer here is that if you are working with a Business Lawyer, that Business Lawyer will tell you when it’s time to bring in a “specialist” if you have a particularly niche issue, it’s not something you should have to worry about.  And this is not only true after the Business Lawyer has been hired (perhaps for other, related matters).  Most lawyers will tell you during your initial consultation if the problem or opportunity you’re facing is better handled by another lawyer or type of lawyer.

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