Venture Capital Lawyers
Education and Training Requirements
In high school, take classes that help to develop your writing, public speaking, critical thinking, and research skills. Such courses include English, speech, foreign languages, social studies, and government. Lawyers need to be logical and analytical, so classes in science, philosophy, mathematics, and computer science will also be useful. Take finance and economics classes because venture capital attorneys need expertise in the financial markets and alternative investments. Be sure to excel in your high school courses, and take as many Advanced Placement classes, as possible. The higher your grades, the better your chances of being accepted by an elite college. Venture capital firms typically seek job candidates who’ve attended top law schools.
The first step to becoming a lawyer is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Many lawyers have undergraduate degrees in prelaw or legal studies, while others (especially those interested in working in the VC industry) earn degrees in finance, business, or accounting, or at least minor or double major in one of these majors. Some colleges and universities offer courses in alternative investments.
To get into law school, you’ll need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which assesses your critical thinking, reasoning, and writing abilities. The Law School Admission Council provides information about preparing for and taking the LSAT at https://www.lsac.org.
More than 200 law schools in the United States are approved by the American Bar Association. A degree of juris doctor (J.D.) or bachelor of laws (LL.B.) is usually granted upon graduation.
Some law schools offer venture capital classes. For example, law students at Duke University can take Venture Capital Financing, which provides an overview of the legal and economic structure of VC transactions and legal agreements. Stanford University and Santa Clara University also provide VC-related classes.
The Association of American Law Schools, a nonprofit association of nearly 180 law schools, offers resources for prospective law students at https://www.aals.org/prospective-law-students.
Other Education or Training
Managing partners often cite the lack of industry knowledge and experience as major factors that disqualify recent law school graduates from consideration for employment. This fact makes it extremely important that aspiring VC lawyers learn as much as they can about capital deal sourcing, investment strategies, contracts, mergers, and other venture capital–related topics in order to become more attractive job candidates. Current VC attorneys also benefit by participating in continuing education classes, seminars, and webinars because the industry is constantly changing.
The following colleges and universities, private organizations, and professional legal and VC associations provide training:
- The Venture Capital Institute (https://www.vcinstitute.org) provides a four-day program that features seminars such as Mezzanine and Later Stage Investments: An Overview, Early Stage Venture Capital Investments, and Term Sheets for Structuring and Negotiating Deals.
- The University of Michigan’s Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity Finance (http://zli.umich.edu/about-zell-lurie/center-vcpe) provides conferences and seminars on investing and entrepreneurial finance.
- The American Bar Association’s Business Law Section offers webinars on venture capital issues.
- The Association of Corporate Counsel provides online and in-person professional development classes and webinars on contract negotiation, ethics, litigation, project management, and basic practice skills.
Some venture capital attorneys choose to earn a master of laws (LL.M) degree, an advanced law certification that helps them advance professionally. LL.M programs, which typically last one year, are offered in many areas—such as banking and finance law, business law, corporate law/corporate governance/corporate compliance, and regulatory compliance. A first law degree is required for admission to LL.M programs. Visit https://www.lsac.org/llm-other-law-program-applicants for more information. A list of LL.M specialties and the law schools that offer them is available at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/accreditation.html.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
Lawyers must be admitted to the bar of the state where they want to practice. Applicants must graduate from an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law school and pass a written examination. The ABA provides an overview of the process at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/bar_admissions/basic_overview.html.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
You will need a minimum of five years of work experience in the corporate world (ideally at investment banks and portfolio companies of VC firms) to be considered for most VC legal positions.
It takes a wide range of skills to be successful as a VC attorney. Since they frequently prepare legal documents, write memos, and meet with partners and the lawyers of start-ups (as well as occasionally represent their clients in court), VC lawyers need top-notch oral and written communication skills and the ability to interact well with others. Lawyers also need strong powers of persuasion, confidence, excellent negotiation skills, strong ethics, creativity, and financial, deal sourcing, and fund-raising expertise.