Banking and finance law covers every aspect of the operations of banks and financial institutions. Lawyers in this area help clients abide by the intricate legal frameworks that govern transactions in both the domestic and global economy. This involves drafting and negotiating contracts that set out the terms of various financial arrangements. Banking and finance lawyers also provide legal advice to organisations engaged in large transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings, and even liquidations.
Banking and finance law is a complex field of practice, with different financial activities regulated by specific pieces of legislation. For example, banks must abide by the Banking Act (1959) as well as a code of practice produced by the Australian Banking Association. When financial institutions violate the law, they’re liable to face investigation by regulatory bodies such as the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
Graduates are expected to play an active role in managing transactions from the start of their careers. Of course, they will initially work under the close supervision of other lawyers at the firm. On a mid-size to large transaction, the banking and finance team will usually consist of at least one partner, a senior associate, an associate, a graduate and/or a paralegal. In smaller transactions an associate may lead the transaction, under the supervision of a partner, but otherwise working with only with a graduate.
The world of banking and finance law is fast-paced and can be extremely intense. In recent years, much has been written about the challenge of getting graduates up to speed without burning them out. While your workload is likely to fluctuate, you may often find yourself working overtime to meet a critical deadline. As a result, banking and finance lawyers can find it particularly difficult to establish and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Some graduates may also be frustrated by the pressure to meet targets every week while billing clients in fifteen or even seven minute intervals. You should be aware of the demands of the profession when you start and be prepared to work with your employers to develop a program that allows you to balance your professional and personal obligations.
During the 2007–2008 global financial crisis (GFC), some of the world’s largest banking and finance institutions, despite appearing stable, suddenly collapsed or required government assistance. Consequently, there was a significant downturn in certain types of lending, and financial lawyers had to contend with new legislation designed to prevent future crises.
The good news is that, after the recession, various alternative financial products and processes emerged to meet the regulatory requirements of the post-GFC world. Banking and finance lawyers were valued for their expertise in interpreting and applying new laws in a way that allowed their clients to minimise loss and recover as quickly as possible. In this sense, they have an important role to play even during times of economic decline.
You can be fairly certain then that a career in banking and finance is relatively stable. It also provides you with a range of possible roles, from managing transactions for a large organization while employed as an in-house lawyer, to representing a regulatory body in its investigation of a suspect financial matter.