EC/VC And The Biglaw Tech Firm — An Overview By A Former Gunderson Associate

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Tech-focused firms have extremely cool work, clients, and cultures, and the sector in which they operate has been experiencing tremendous and consistent growth.

If you’re a corporate associate with top credentials, you probably accepted an offer through on-campus interviewing from a prestigious, Chambers-ranked practice. It’s equally likely that nobody told you to take a serious look at elite Emerging Companies/Venture Capital (“EC/VC”) practices at Gunderson, Cooley, Fenwick, Goodwin, and the other top “Tech” firms.

While you may not have heard all of these names or the term “EC/VC” during law school, you almost certainly have now, and there’s a reason why. These growing Tech shops have extremely cool work, clients, and cultures, and the sector in which they operate has been experiencing tremendous and consistent growth. Take it from someone who practiced in Gunderson’s Corporate group and is constantly working with folks trying to enter into or pivot within the EC/VC space. (For a bit more on my background, check out this interview I did with my colleague David Lat.)

For those who want more information on these practices and firms, I strongly encourage you to reach out to me at . In the interim, here is a high-level rundown on substance, clients, development, culture, and how/when to get in the door:

Substance

  • The typical model of an EC/VC practice is to (1) serve as quasi-in-house counsel to startups and emerging companies throughout their life cycles and (2) advise top VC firms on their formation, operations, and investments.
  • In practice and on the corporate side of the house, this means forming the company, managing the capitalization table (“cap table”), staying on top of governance matters, leading venture financings through which these companies receive funding from institutional and private investors, negotiating commercial agreements, and generally working hand-in-hand with the business principals to steer the company toward an exit (e.g., an IPO or sale).

Clients

  • The client base ranges from a cool startup recently founded by young Harvard or Stanford grads to unicorns (i.e., privately held startups valued in excess of $1 billion) to public tech giants.
  • Compared to their colleagues in other practice areas, associates in EC/VC practices can have meaningful business development opportunities. For example, after less than a year at Gunderson, I was able to bring on a friend of a friend’s LA-based startup as a client, then took the lead on their Series Seed financing.

Development

  • These practices enable their associates to work directly with C-Suite executives and other major players on business teams.
  • This often takes the form of explaining material terms of a venture financing to the board and existing stockholders so that they understand their respective rights and obligations.
  • It also involves cluing in the founders on stuff they really care about, like the extent to which they’re being diluted by a financing or equity grants to new hires and highly-valued employees (remember the scene at the end of The Social Network when Eduardo Saverin smashes a laptop on Mark Zuckerberg’s desk?).
  • One of the key and purposeful byproducts of the nature of the work and extremely lean staffing is that associates can get an intimate look under the hood of their clients’ businesses from day one – something that not only makes a lawyer’s role more rewarding, but yields the best quality of work. Associates can witness the bigger picture firsthand and understand the practical implications of changes they’re making in documents.
  • Because EC/VC lawyers work closely with their clients and truly learn their clients’ businesses, they are often the first candidates the client will consider when starting or growing a legal department – so if you want to go in-house eventually, the EC/VC space is one of the best launching pads.

Culture

  • Based on my experience, the best way to describe the culture at the top Tech firms is that the vibe feels more like a startup than a law firm.
  • You’ll rarely see people in business formal attire, and both associates and partners actually use the common areas to hang out and have conversations that surpass “what are you working on?”

How/When to Get In

  • These practices have been extremely busy, and many are hiring now with 2020 and 2021 start dates.
  • At the same time, there is a ton of demand in the market for associate positions at the top Tech firms, so you’ll absolutely need to have a good firm and law school on your CV.
  • On timing, if you’re in a corporate group (ideally a deal lawyer) and do not have EC/VC experience, you’ll want to start seriously considering a pivot in the middle or end of your second year – largely because it’s ideal to retool sooner rather than later.
  • If you do have EC/VC experience, the main consideration is whether your firm is feeding you the right development opportunities and a wide enough range of work (e.g., make sure you’re getting some M&A and IPO experience and not just pure venture financings, and vice versa).

If you can’t already tell, I’m a huge advocate for the Tech industry and the top EC/VC practices. In a world where a lateral move on its face may seem like a riskier proposition than usual, it’s smart to think about whether staying the course is in reality a greater risk than pursuing a role in an extremely active and growing space.

If you’re a Biglaw corporate associate with superb credentials and an interest in EC/VC work, please drop me a line at . I’d be happy to expand on this overview and give you more specifics, provide you with a market overview and tell you which Tech firms are hiring, and explore specific opportunities with you if you’re interested. Thanks!

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by Stephen Damato, a Director based in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in placing attorneys into law firms across the United States. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Stephen practiced law as a corporate associate in Gunderson Dettmer’s Boston office and an M&A and private equity associate in Jones Day’s New York office. Stephen holds a J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A., magna cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania. He is an avid D.C. sports fan (Washington Capitals above the rest) and is forever working on his golf game.