Venture Capital Lawyers
Venture capital lawyers work for VC firms, the portfolio companies of VC firms, corporations that have venture capital departments, and legal practices that provide services to VC firms. Some lawyers are employed by fund investors (e.g., endowment funds, pension plans, high-wealth individuals, and family trusts).
Vault.com publishes an annual list of the best law firms for venture capital law (as ranked by associates). Some of the top firms in 2020 were:
- Cooley LLP
- Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
- Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian
- Fenwick & West LLP
- Goodwin Procter LLP
- Latham & Watkins LLP
- Kirkland & Ellis LLP
- Barnes & Thornburg LLP
- Choate Hall & Stewart LLP
In addition to working in the VC industry, lawyers are employed in nearly every other industry, at nonprofits, and by government agencies.
It’s extremely difficult for new graduates to land a job in the venture capital industry, typically because they don’t have the following: a well-developed network of contacts in the business world; expertise in venture capital deal flow, due diligence, and investment agreements and other contracts; and experience founding a start-up or at least providing services to one. Lawyers who take the time to develop these skills and this experience in the alternative investment industry and in the corporate world (including at investment banks and portfolio companies of VC firms) will become stronger job candidates. Also, it never hurts to earn an MBA and take a few classes in venture capital.
Venture capital partners like to work with people they know (or who’ve been recommended by trusted colleagues), so unless you’re a member of the “in crowd,” your skills and achievements may not mean much. So how do you get noticed by VC partners? One common strategy is to approach partners and offer to work for a free—helping with due diligence, contracts, intellectual property, or deal flow. If you make a good impression, you might be offered a job. You can also raise your profile by volunteering at venture capital associations or at entrepreneurial events, attending industry conferences, working in the legal department of a VC portfolio company or at a law firm that provides services to VC firms, and starting a blog that discusses legal issues in the VC industry.
Most venture capital firms are small and don’t have large legal departments. In fact, some small firms may only have a chief legal officer on staff or they may only employ contract attorneys. At a large VC firm or a law firm that provides services to the VC industry, new hires might begin as associates or principals, then advance to the positions of managing attorney and chief legal officer. Some attorneys become partners, or even managing partners. With experience, a highly skilled lawyer who works for a VC portfolio company might become the chief financial officer, CEO, or chief operating officer.
Tips for Entry
Visit the following Web sites for job listings:
Once you’ve become a lawyer and gained experience, volunteer your services to a venture capital firm. Managing partners love free help, and volunteering might help you get your foot in the door at the firm.
Participate in an internship at a law firm that provides services to the VC industry to obtain experience and build your network.
To learn more about the industry, check out The Venture Alley (https://www.theventurealley.com), a blog about legal and business issues that are important to entrepreneurs, startups, venture capitalists, and angel investors.