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Finance for Lawyers - LAWS8140

Faculty: Faculty of Law
School:  Faculty of Law
Course Outline: See below
Campus: Kensington Campus
Career: Postgraduate
Units of Credit: 6
EFTSL: 0.12500 (more info)
Indicative Contact Hours per Week: 2
Enrolment Requirements:
Prerequisite: Academic Program must be either 9200, 9210, 5740 or 9230
CSS Contribution Charge:Band 3 (more info)
Further Information: See Class Timetable


The purpose of this course is to provide basic financial literacy to students mainly in corporate law, but also in other fields of law. The course covers fundamentals of the operation of financial markets; theoretical concepts such as risk and return; modern developments such as derivative securities and hedge funds; and legal applications, such as damages in securities litigation. The course requires simple numerical calculations (nothing beyond addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), but the emphasis is on gaining an understanding of basic finance and its application to legal problems. This course is open only to students who have not taken a prior course in finance, or who had such a course so long ago that they need a refresher.

Why Is Finance Important To Lawyers?

This course should be considered a core course for anyone considering a corporate or transactional law practice, or practically any area where economic thinking plays a role. Finance is the theory of business. To talk to your clients; to read their documents; to draft contracts and disclosure documents for them; to counsel them on issues that mix business sense with legal constraints; you need some knowledge of finance. Accounting is the language of business. You need that knowledge too.

Business lawyers need to understand the business realities of the transactions that they work on. They need to understand which contractual language gives meaningful comfort to the buyer of a business (or the seller), and which language really protects the holders of the company's bonds or other debt against opportunism by the borrowing company, which language nobody really cares very much about, and why. They need to be able to read financial statements and financial projections, to find hidden problems that may affect a deal or call for special disclosure in a prospectus or other disclosure document. They have to find the assumptions buried in a set of projections.

When you're working on a transaction, it's your job to find the problems and the mistakes. When you're writing a disclosure document, you and your client are at risk if there is a material misstatement or omission. You need to understand the financial elements of the transaction to evaluate what's material and what isn't. Securities, tax and corporate lawyers also need to be able to understand the complex securities -- options, convertibles, swaps, derivatives, asset-backed securities, and many more -- that are an important part of corporate practice today.

When statutory and common law use terms such as “fair value” and “investment suitability”, an understanding of finance theory is essential to make these terms concrete and meaningful. When an injustice or some other harm occurred some time in the past, and the courts award a monetary damages award much later, our innate sense of justice suggests that the plaintiff should also be awarded interest to compensate for delayed justice. But at what interest rate? Again, finance theory comes to our rescue.

It is possible to be an adequate business lawyer without knowing anything about finance. But I don't think it's possible, any more, for a top-flight business lawyer to be ignorant of finance. This course can help, but students are urged to read the business press; to try to understand why a particular security is attractive to buyers; to try to understand why Company A might want to buy Company B, or divest itself of division C.

While this course is designed for business lawyers, broadly defined, it intends to cast a broad net that includes anyone who works on and cares about issues related to corporate finance. That includes corporate lawyers; tax lawyers; real estate lawyers; bankruptcy and workout lawyers. Large chunks of this course will be useful for other types of lawyers as well. Family lawyers and trust and estate lawyers have to know how to value assets. If you're doing divorce work, and you aren't conversant with many of the topics in this class, you are not competent to advise your clients or negotiate good outcomes for them. The value of marital assets in divorce proceedings, such as professional goodwill and other intangibles, is an important and often litigated, but poorly understood topic.

LLM Specialisations

Recommended Prior Knowledge


Main Topics

  • The time value of money.
  • Principles of shares and bonds.
  • Principles of risk and return.
  • Prejudgment interest.
  • Damages in securities litigation.
  • Market efficiency. Applications to insider trading, market manipulation, securities litigation.
  • Overview of Australian financial markets.
  • Cost of capital and financial policy.
  • Options and derivative securities.
  • Mergers, acquisitions and takeovers.
  • Principles of international finance.
  • Special topics of current interest. In 2009: The financial meltdown and its legal implications.


Problem Sets (20%)
Final exam (70%)
Class participation (10%)

Course Texts


  • Stephen Ross et al., Fundamentals of Corporate Finance (4th ed., 2007, Australian edition.)
  • Articles and supplementary material to be provided in class.
  • Jonathan Berk and Peter DeMarzo, Corporate Finance - The Core (2008).
  • Robert F. Bruner, Applied Mergers & Acquisitions (2004).

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© The University of New South Wales (CRICOS Provider No.: 00098G), 2004-2011. The information contained in this Handbook is indicative only. While every effort is made to keep this information up-to-date, the University reserves the right to discontinue or vary arrangements, programs and courses at any time without notice and at its discretion. While the University will try to avoid or minimise any inconvenience, changes may also be made to programs, courses and staff after enrolment. The University may also set limits on the number of students in a course.