Investment banks go down the legal route

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A good law degree can go a long way, especially in investment banking.

This was underscored recently when Credit Suisse appointed former Commonwealth Bank of Australia general counsel and Freehills partner John O'Sullivan as chairman of its local investment banking unit.

And transition from law into banking is not just happening at the top end. Recruiters are noting that many candidates for banking jobs at lower levels also have legal qualifications.

"'It's quite common for lawyers to move into investment banking, particularly into mergers and acquisitions," says Luke Heath, chief executive of Chandler Heath Executive Recruitment, remarking on the strong level of M&A activity in the Australian marketplace. "If you're a banking lawyer, it's quite possible that you've already had significant transaction experience, and a large part of M&A work is really detailed legal contract arrangement work."

"You could be looking at cross-border regulations, or the way a security might be structured, so there are a whole series of areas in banking law that actually lend themselves well to becoming a banker," Heath adds.

Adam Kolokotsas, manager of banking and finance at executive recruitment specialist Tanner Menzies, says the rollout of the Financial Services Reform Act in 2000 spurred many lawyers to move into the finance sector. "Since that time there has been a continuous need for businesses to meet compliance and various regulatory acts," he says. "A legal qualification is highly desirable in M&A work because they are all around contracts. So we've seen a lot of pull of that legal talent into our space ... they may not have been a practising solicitor or a barrister but if they have a legal qualification they are in demand."

Both Heath and Kolokotsas predict the trend for lawyers to convert to banking will continue.

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