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Corporate Lawyers

History

Business has been conducted since the beginning of civilization, and there have always been learned individuals, and later specialized legal professionals, who provided business and legal advice and represented these businesses in their interactions with the legal system and government agencies. Early businesses were either privately owned, in which the individual who established the business was solely responsible for the services provided, the employment of any workers, and the profits or losses of the business, or a partnership, in which a business was owned jointly by two or more individuals.

Corporations, today’s most common form of business, were developed in the early Middle Ages as a legal alternative to private businesses or partnerships. What made corporations significantly different from sole proprietorships or partnerships was that a corporation was considered its own entity in the business world independent of its controlling members. The first corporations were religious orders, universities, and town governments.

The first commercial corporations were chartered by countries and states to undertake tasks that were too costly or risky for individuals or governments to tackle themselves. Some consider the Stora Kopparberg Mining Company in Falus, Sweden, to be the oldest commercial corporation in the world. It was chartered by King Magnus Eriksson in 1347. Corporations were also chartered by many European nations to lead costly and risky colonial ventures. Examples include The Russia Company (which was formed in England in 1553 with the goal of finding what eventually became the Northeast Passage to Asia), the East India Company (an English company that was formed in 1600 for the exploitation of trade with East and Southeast Asia and India), the Dutch East India Company (founded in 1602 to protect and facilitate Dutch trade in the East Indies), and the Hudson’s Bay Company (which was incorporated in England in 1670 to seek what is now called the Northwest Passage to the Pacific and to occupy and carry out commerce in the lands adjacent to Hudson Bay in what is now Canada).

As of 1880 in the United States, there were 335 chartered business corporations, with most having been chartered after 1790, according to Essays in the Earlier History of Modern Corporations, by Joseph S. Davis. Most of the new corporations chartered in the early 1800s were involved in public service of some kind, such as construction of water routes, banking, and insurance. Eventually this changed, and commerce and manufacturing firms became the predominant applicants for charter in the United States.

During the Industrial Revolution in the mid-to-late 18th century, businesses became more mechanized and more specialized. Earlier companies typically involved just a few people who together executed all the tasks necessary to manufacture a product or provide a service. As machinery made it possible for businesses to produce more materials faster, businesses expanded in size and scope. By 1890, “there were nearly 500,000 chartered business corporations in the United States, far more than in any other country,” according to “Reforming Corporate Governance: What History Can Teach Us,” by Margaret M. Blair.

Since that time, the number of corporations and other business entities in the United States has skyrocketed. In 2013, there were nearly 7.5 million business establishments in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with more than 1.2 million having 500 or more employees. Corporate lawyers assist these businesses with a wide range of legal issues—from labor law and mergers and acquisitions, to intellectual property and international law. The growth of international business, advances in technology, the emergence of the Internet, and the increasing complexity of business laws have spurred demand for corporate lawyers.

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