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What's the difference between business and commercial law?

If you run a business, you may have wondered if there is a difference between "business law" and "commercial law." Many people use the words "business" and "commercial" almost interchangeably. Is there a difference -- and does it affect the kind of lawyer you need?

The differences between the two areas of law are real, but the two areas overlap a great deal. For most situations you'll encounter as a business owner, the same lawyer should be able to assist you with either.

Commercial law vs. business law

Think of commercial law as governing the purchase, sale and distribution of goods, along with the financing of these transactions. It is primarily regulated by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). This is called a "model statute," meaning that experts in the field devised the UCC and then proposed it to states to pass into law. New Jersey and all other states except Louisiana have adopted the entire UCC, although many have made modifications to it.

In New Jersey, the UCC covers a wide range of issues, including:

  • The sale of goods
  • Leases
  • Negotiable instruments
  • Banking transactions, credit arrangements and collections
  • Funds transfers
  • Letters of credit
  • Documents of title
  • Investment securities
  • Secured transactions
  • Commercial transactions

Business law generally governs other aspects of running a business, including the formation of business entities; running a business legally; mergers, acquisitions and closures of businesses; shareholder rights; leasing and purchase of business premises; basic workplace safety and employment rules; licensing; and environmental laws.

As you can see from that list, business law touches on many aspects of business that can also be considered their own areas of law.

Business law can be local, state or federal. For example, the federal government is the primary regulator of stocks and investments and a major regulator of workplace safety, employment and environmental protections. States are primarily responsible for business and professional licensing and enforcement.

Your New Jersey business attorney will be familiar with the details of both business and commercial law in the state and can refer you to a specialist if your situation calls for it.

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