How to Become an Antitrust or Securities Lawyer | Top Law Schools

When U.S. corporations are accused of establishing monopolies or misleading investors, attorneys specializing in antitrust and securities law step in to settle the score.

In one recent high-profile antitrust lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, declaring the organization’s prohibitions on educational benefits for student-athletes, such as free tutoring and graduate school scholarships, an illegitimate restriction of competition in the marketplace.

And in a much-watched securities lawsuit in 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission reached a $40 million settlement with tech titan Elon Musk and his electric car company Tesla, Inc., after Musk made comments about Tesla on social media that the agency deemed deceptive and that caused the company’s stock price to go up.

In major cases like these, antitrust or securities lawyers work to defend corporations and executives or oppose them. Below is a guide on how to train for a career as an antitrust or securities attorney.

Antitrust and Securities Law: What It Is and Why It Matters

Federal law prohibits companies from engaging in certain anticompetitive business practices such as collusion, which can cause prices to spike or wages to plummet. This area of law is known as antitrust law.

Federal statutes and regulations also dictate the extent to which firms must be honest and transparent with their investors – a type of law known as securities law. Securities statutes and regulations outlaw insider trading by executives and others who have access to company secrets that the general public does not.

The U.S. system of antitrust and securities guidelines is meant to prevent and punish unethical or unfair manipulation of the marketplace that goes against the public interest. These conventions are closely related, and similar to, consumer protection directives, and they are sometimes intertwined with banking and employment or labor decrees. Antitrust and securities provisions also affect corporate bankruptcy, financing, mergers or acquisitions and tax requirements.

What Antitrust and Securities Lawyers Do and Compensation

Some antitrust and securities attorneys are litigators who represent clients in courtrooms, while others work behind the scenes as transactional lawyers who provide advice about how to set up legitimate business deals. Lawyers in these areas can also represent the government as law enforcement officials, regulators or trial lawyers.

Jobs in these aspects of corporate law tend to be more lucrative than most lawyer positions. According to the Law Crossing legal job website, the average salary among U.S. antitrust lawyers and securities attorneys is about $118,000.

“They’re able to command very high rates in both,” says Jeffrey Lowe, global practice leader of the law firm practice at the Major, Lindsey & Africa legal executive search firm. “When you look at, for example, these huge tech cases involving Amazon, Google or Facebook or Apple, you have teams of lawyers at big firms or, in many cases, many big firms all billing thousands of hours on the matter, and so the fees that they can generate are tremendous.”

One thing that differentiates these narrow legal specializations from broader fields of law is that there are fewer people with expertise in these areas, meaning less competition for desirable jobs, Lowe says. “It really is a way of standing out from the generalized crowd.”

That said, opportunities in the sectors “ebb and flow,” he says, and such jobs are not “recession-proof.”

What’s Needed to Become an Antitrust or Securities Attorney

Any future lawyer who is fascinated by business or economics and who wants to ensure that the financial system works properly should consider studying antitrust or securities law, according to experts on those disciplines. The fields tend to attract studious aspiring attorneys who are excited by the prospect of solving difficult intellectual puzzles.

J.D. courses in antitrust law and securities regulation are typically optional, and it’s possible to earn a J.D. degree without them. But any law student who wants to become an antitrust or securities lawyer should sign up, experts say.

“I think some people are scared off by (antitrust and securities law), because they sound hard, but it really can be a differentiator in the job market to be able to tell a prospective employer that you took corporation finance, you’ve taken antitrust (and) you’ve taken securities regulation, ” Lowe says. “So I would encourage everybody who’s in law school or thinking of going to law school: Don’t look for the easy way out. Take the hard classes, because you’re going to be that much better prepared when you finally start practicing.”

Within transactional law jobs that involve representing companies, he says, “it’s really beneficial to have some facility with numbers and with financial models and (be) very conversant with financial accounting, because you’re really at some level the consigliere for a company, and you have to advise them through a whole host of decisions, some of which are purely legal, but some of which may cross into other siloes like accounting (and) finance.”

Undergraduates considering a career in antitrust or securities law should take business management courses to understand and learn how to relate to their potential future clients, Bartlett says. In law school, they should take classes in essential areas of corporate law, such as business associations law, corporate finance law, mergers and acquisitions law and tax law, he adds.

According to experts, there are two classic ways of launching or accelerating a career in antitrust or securities law. Lawyers can find work at a corporate law firm with important clients who have major antitrust or securities legal concerns, or they can join a federal agency or department that deals with these issues, such as the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Federal Trade Commission.

How to Choose the Right Law School to Prepare

Someone who intends to specialize in antitrust or securities law should look for a law school that “has a robust business law curriculum in general” and aim to acquire a broad skill set in corporate law, Bartlett says.

“Focus more generally on working with businesses in terms of helping them raise capital, helping them get organized and get formed and advising them on strategic ventures, which could implicate antitrust considerations,” he suggests.