Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian - The Inside View

Helping the next big startup become a reality is just another day in the Gunderson offices.

Gunderson isn’t your run-of-the-mill Californian firm. Sure, it’s BigLaw and like many West Coast firms, it has a significant tech practice. But what really sets Gunderson apart from its peers is the way it’s managed to conquer the emerging companies and venture capital space not just locally, but nationally since its foundation almost 30 years ago. In California, the firm receives high praise from Chambers USA for its venture capital and corporate/M&A work while nationally, it’s known for being the best of the best in startups & emerging companies. It’s an impressive feat to say the least, and it’s not one taken lightly by its associates: “Gunderson is a market leader, and we’ve been a market leader for a long time. The brand recognition, the space we work in, and having contact with the best clients – that was all really stellar.” Another junior agreed that “it’s cool to be the best at what we do. I’m being trained by the best people in the industry.”

“The brand recognition, the space we work in, and having contact with the best clients – that was all really stellar.”

Work aside, there’s plenty more to love about Gunderson. The firm culture was a highlight for many – those who enjoy a “healthy mix of work hard play hard” and “open collaboration without feeling like there’s a hierarchy” plus a dash of “startup culture mentality” will feel right at home. As for location, the associates on our list were mainly California-based between the Los Angeles and Silicon Valley offices with most others in New York and Boston, but a few were found in Austin too.

Strategy & Future



“We’re not trying to be a full-service firm,” Jeffrey Higgins, global managing partner, tells us candidly when asked what differentiates the firm from others: “We’re the market leader when it comes to the innovation economy – we work with venture-backed companies, venture capital, and growth equity funds – but the real distinction is that we’re the only firm in the world that’s dedicated to that market.” And while the tech market experienced some challenges last year, Gunderson has “weathered the storms and actually gained market share in challenging markets,” as “we’re seeing those markets turn,” Higgins enthuses, “and we’re very excited about getting back on track. There were headwinds in 2023 but, as the public stock markets have rebounded, we’ve had tailwinds going into 2024.”

Naturally, being a tech-focused firm, Gunderson has had its finger on the pulse of developments in the technology space what with the launch of ChatGD, its homegrown internal generative AI tool: “Generative AI is a significant step forward in how we can serve our clients.” Higgins continues: “We anticipate new technology, and we’ve been focusing on this for many years.” He then goes on to say of ChatGD: “We develop our own tools and leverage other technologies to use them for our clients – we’re at the forefront of how our industry changes.” Rounding out our conversation, Higgins wants law students to know that “if you want to work in the innovation economy with high growth tech and life sciences companies, that’s what we do. We’re the people to be talking to in this space.”

The Work



If you’re already set on what you want to practice, you’re in luck: “Gunderson doesn’t have a rotational program. As a summer, you can try everything, but you get put straight into a practice group when you start full-time.” Those who aren’t sure will “typically slot into corporate if they don’t like anything else” based on firm need. Associates sang high praise of the fact that “the Gunderson experience is very self-directed” – aspiring associates can join one of three groups: corporate, tech/IP, or fund formation. And because “there aren’t many practice areas to join, there’s no buyer’s remorse because you didn’t have enough time to try everything as a summer.” The approach to staffing across practices is both centralized and relationship-based, which ensures “no thiefdom or blackballing” while still having the option to “work the hallways and build relationships to get staffed that way.”

The corporate group is “a primarily deal-based practice, but for the company side, it’s formation, corporate governance, and stock issuances.” As this is the firm’s specialty, there’s lots of work with “venture-backed startups and venture capital firms of varying sizes, essentially as their general counsel.” Smaller clients include freshly incorporated startups or small venture capital firms doing “their first really small five-to-ten-million-dollar fund,” while bigger clients are venture capital firms with valuations of $1 billion that are “behemoths on the stage!” Sources also explained that “sometimes we help with venture financings, sometimes with exiting IPO and the strategy that surrounds that as well.” But as companies grow, “our work becomes a little more specific to one or two subsets, as they’ve got in-house lawyers. In that case, we’ll still work with managing the capitalization table, equity distributions, and things like that, but we’ll probably work with less of their IP matters.”

The typical tasks of a corporate junior are varied. “There’s lots of playing crossing guard and looping in any IP, executive compensation, or labor specialists to utilize them at different points in time,” a corporate associate detailed. There’s also more administrative-type work like keeping the client’s legal records organized, getting board or stockholder approvals, and taking board minutes in meetings. One aspect of corporate practice that juniors highlighted was “having access to our client base at such a junior level right away. I’m already starting to build client relationships where at other firms, you may not have the opportunity to so soon.”

Corporate clients: Flexport, Ripple Labs, Miroculus. Represented TeneoTwo, a developer of therapeutic antibodies, in its pending acquisition by AstraZeneca.

“We work directly with the company – they won’t call the partners, they’ll call us.”

Tech lawyers at Gunderson handle company financings – “making sure that the company’s in a place where it can eventually go through M&A and sell with no problems” – and running diligence on the investor side. Occasionally, there is some M&A to be done in the tech group, but product and commercial counsel is “one of the biggest chunks of our practice.” A junior told us: “We work directly with the company – they won’t call the partners, they’ll call us. We’ll hear that they have an issue, and they’ll ask us, ‘can you help us with our product? Can you review our commercial agreement?’” Just like the firm’s corporate associates, sources raved about how much responsibility they’re given from the get-go: “We get so much experience early on! I was thrown into a customer negotiation during my first day on the job – just me, no partner. I love the initial hands-on experience because, as you get more senior, you get more understanding of what goes on and what the client cares about.” The fund formation group at the firm works to form venture capital funds, and this work incorporates some tax law as well. These associates are sometimes working on deals for months at a time, so if the funds group is more your speed, be sure to buckle up!

Technology clients: Tactic, Coursedog, Giphy. Represented ThriveCapital in the $6.5 billion Series I financing of Stripe.

Fund formation clients: Suffolk Technologies, Flybridge, OpenView. Represented Volition Capital in the formation of its $675 million fund, Volition Capital V.

Career Development



“Gunderson really relies on live action training where you’re working with clients in real time.”

At Gunderson, mentorship is mostly informal which works because “it allows you to develop genuine rather than forced relationships.” As for training, “the firm is in a really unique position because of our industry expertise and the axis we’re on,” a corporate insider explained, “and Gunderson really relies on live action training where you’re working with clients in real time.” Corporate training is more off-the-cuff and “one-to-one,” and interviewees expressed their wishes for more of this. “You get training as a summer – mock trials, seminars, webinars, presentations,” one source recounted, “but as you get more senior, it's up to you to keep up with it. For a firm of our caliber, I think we could be doing a little more with that.” Tech associates, however, are “hit over the head with training!” one interviewee joked.In a program called Book Club, they “attend a series of trainings covering essential deal negotiation knowledge," during which associates prepare pages and present them under partner guidance. In terms of alternative career opportunities if you decide to leave the firm, “when you see tech associates leave, it’s because we’re really marketable to the tech in-house jobs – Google, Facebook, places like that.”

Pro Bono



“The firm has definitely backed up its commitment to making pro bono accessible to associates.”

“It’s been made a priority relatively recently,” an associate shared, but it’s still not a mandatory requirement for juniors. Our interviewees generally felt comfortable taking on pro bono – and the offerings are diverse too. “There are ten or so recurring pro bono opportunities on our website, and you can sign up for a volunteer slot,” one source detailed. Whether it’s immigration, tenants’ or veterans’ rights, or support for young victims of domestic violence, “the firm has definitely backed up its commitment to making pro bono accessible to associates.” There is also lots of commercial pro bono available, and even work with clients in more niche spaces like AI education.

Pro bono hours

  • For all (US) attorneys: undisclosed
  • Average per (US) attorney: undisclosed

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: 1,950 target

Of the firm’s 1,950 billable target, one relieved interviewee joked, “I’m just glad it’s not 2,000, that’s for sure!” On a more serious note, we heard that it was “hard work but you’ll have some weeks or months where there’s not much going on, and then some where you’re drowning in work.” That said, associates in the tech transactions group feel that the target is less achievable, because “we’re expected to be training all the time. For corporate, it’s a little different because they don’t have formalized training, so it’d be nice to balance the training with the target for our group.” The good news, though, is that “Gunderson doesn’t want associates billing more than the 1,950 target – it’s not the minimum number, it’s genuinely a target.” In terms of hybrid working, Higgins sees the value in “allowing for some flexibility in the workplace, but law firms are still essentially apprenticeships. Coming in and meeting your peers is still the best way for people to get trained,” and the firm’s office-dependent hybrid policy reflects this, with some offices like Boston encouraging its lawyers to be in five days a week.

Culture



“I love the people. It’s why I stay at this job because the job itself can be super hard,” one interviewee gushed, adding that “Gunderson is a place where people respect your time.” The firm is also “looking for more ways to engage outside of happy hours,” with one source elaborating: “We find ways to do social stuff, but nothing too crazy. We like to have fun and recently, we’re working on doing things that allow us to bond and build relationships.” This includes visiting historical Tiki bars, going on urban hikes, and taking trips to botanical gardens – events that are “well-attended by people in the junior to senior levels.”

Bonus for any aspiring Californian associates too: sources detailed that “between San Francisco and Redwood City, the culture is great because it’s the same people who rotate between offices!” Regardless of whether you’re looking for West or East Coast offerings, “everyone is well bought into the friendliness and the culture here, which keeps the camaraderie alive.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



“We’ve been active in this space for many years, and DEI values are instilled from the beginning,” Higgins affirms, emphasizing that “having a diverse set of lawyers and employees means that we can provide better services for our clients – no question about it.” From associates, we heard glowing reviews about the WAG – Women’s Affinity Group – that have monthly meetings in their pods. Interviewees were also generally pleased with the firm’s maternity leave policy; with 71% survey respondents believing that partnership is attainable for those with children, it seems that “partners are trying to encourage women to feel like they can have families.”

One point of feedback our associate sources did have, however, was that the firm “could be doing more on the DEI side when it comes to people of color.” Just over half of surveyed associates agreed the firm tries to retain and promote diverse lawyers. It’s something that is clearly on the firm’s mind, however; Gunderson hosts trivia contests, movie nights, and even a boat cruise for diverse associates, as well as hosting panels to advise diverse juniors on how to navigate their careers in BigLaw. The firm also offers a 1L Diversity Fellowship with a scholarship reward of up to $40,000.

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus  

OCI applicants interviewed:  394 

Interviewees outside OCI:  78 

Gunderson Dettmer conducts OCIs at a variety of law schools, including those with robust business law societies or entrepreneurship clinics, as well as those that are geographically close to the firm's offices. These include Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, NYU, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Law SF, University of Michigan, University of Texas and USC Gould. Gunderson also makes an appearance at the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Boston Lawyers Group Diversity Job Fair, and Lavender Law. 

OCIs are usually conducted by a partner and associate team. Hiring sources at the firm explain that candidates “do not need to have prior work experience with startups or in venture capital, but it is best when they’re able to articulate why they think working with startups would be exciting and why they want to speak to us.” Specifically, candidates will probably be quizzed about what they did in the previous summer. Hiring sources explain that interviewers will be looking to see if interviewees “can express themselves clearly in a professional setting and also have a conversational feel while doing so, especially when taking a legal concept and relating it to someone who may not have the background.”   

Top tips for this stage:   

“Demonstrate interest in working with startups and knowing what we do. Our firm is very focused so when someone comes in saying they’re interested in a practice that we don’t have, it doesn’t work.” – hiring sources at the firm   

“They don’t need to know our full history of the firm, but at least have a sense of what we do and why they want to do it too.” – hiring sources at the firm   

Callbacks   

Applicants invited to second-stage interview: 184 

Candidates who make it to the callback stage will meet with six attorneys. If the interview is in the morning it is often followed by a lunch with junior associates, while afternoon interviews may finish up with a coffee. At this stage, interviewers are looking to confirm the impression the candidate made at the OCI stage and expect them “to have done more research and have thoughtful questions for us about the practice.”   

Top tips for this stage:   

“If you get your interview schedule in advance, look at their firm profile and LinkedIn page. You don’t need anecdotes, but it will help you demonstrate that you’re interested in speaking to those attorneys about our firm, clients, or their practice.” – hiring sources at the firm   

“Expect some of the standard questions: Why Gunderson? Why startups? Why tech? The work is specialized so they want to make sure you’re interested.”– a second-year associate   

Summer program   

Offers: 30 

Acceptances: 14 

During Gunderson’s summer program, work assignment coordinators in each office keep in touch with summers throughout the program and keep in mind their areas of interest for work. Although there is no formal rotation process, summers are encouraged to try their hand at assignments across the board. Social events differ office to office, but associates informed us of weekly happy hours and the occasional dinner hosted by partners.   

Gunderson tells us most summers return to the firm as first-year associates. “We begin having discussions about practice area interest throughout the summer program,” hiring sources explain, “so we generally know who will be in which practice by the end of the summer.”   

Top tips for this stage:   

“Act as though you’re a first-year associate and already an associate at the firm. We don’t expect the work quality and knowledge to be the same, but we expect you to act in regard to your peers, associates, partners, non-attorneys, and clients as though you’re a professional in the firm.” – hiring sources at the firm.  

And finally….   

Hiring sources say it’s a good idea for students to get in touch sooner rather than later: “It makes a difference if you’re on our radar before you walk into the OCI interview room.”  

Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian

550 Allerton Street, Redwood City,
Silicon Valley,
CA 94063
Website www.gunder.com

Main areas of work
Corporate: Gunderson’s corporate lawyers focus exclusively on the emerging technology and life sciences market, guiding entrepreneurs through early stage issues, helping them to scale their companies, accelerating their businesses, and preparing for an M&A or capital markets exit.

Strategic Transactions & Licensing (Tech): The firm’s technology team works on strategic transactions to leverage unmatched business knowledge and sophisticated insights to develop, acquire and monetize technologies, even creating new business models to bring products to market. Our practical guidance and sophisticated perspectives become more valuable as our clients mature and grow.

Venture Capital & Growth Equity (Corporate and Fund): Gunderson is the recognized leader in the venture capital and growth equity fund formation marketplace. We routinely negotiate close to one-third of every venture capital dollar raised worldwide. We serve as general counsel to more than 500 venture capital and growth equity firms, representing many of today’s most prominent venture capital firms since their inception; facilitating their ascent to household names and their exploration of new investment strategies, emerging economies and international expansion.

Tax: From formation to financing to exit, the firm’s tax lawyers advise founders, executives and investors on tax matters at each stage of the business growth cycle. Gunderson’s tax team provides guidance on structuring transactions and ongoing counsel for tax planning and compliance issues. The firm recognizes that tax advantages and business purposes often conflict, and the tax team is adept at figuring out how to achieve the right balance to serve its clients. We advise clients on financings, restructurings, spin-offs, and exits, with an emphasis on IPOs and taxable and tax-free M&A.

Executive Compensation: We have worked with thousands of companies to design, draft and administer equity compensation plans, executive agreements, severance and change in control arrangements, incentive bonus programs and other incentive based plans that are essential to emerging growth and maturing companies’ abilities to attract and retain top talent.

Firm profile
Gunderson Dettmer is the preeminent international corporate law firm singularly focused on the global venture capital and emerging companies marketplace. We serve market-leading venture capital and growth equity investors and pioneering companies through inception, growth and maturity, as well as groundbreaking public companies that result from the global venture capital ecosystem. As a firm, we are committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment in which each employee can excel and thrive. We seek to enrich our firm by recruiting, retaining and promoting lawyers, paralegals and professional staff from diverse backgrounds, and with wide-ranging experiences. We believe that a workforce comprised of individuals with a broad set of backgrounds, experiences and beliefs who openly and fully engage with each other is essential to advising our clients effectively and providing fresh and innovative solutions.

With 400 attorneys in 11 offices—Silicon Valley, Ann Arbor, Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Beijing, São Paulo, and Singapore—we represent high-growth technology and life sciences companies from a broad range of industries and at every stage of development. We provide our clients with counsel on general corporate and securities law, mergers and acquisitions, financings, intellectual property and commercial agreements, strategic alliances, executive compensation, employment, privacy, public company and tax matters.

Our market approach gives us the insight and networks to provide practical advice and guidance that is of critical importance to emerging companies looking to grow, scale and expand. We support companies at every stage of their life cycle by leveraging industry relationships, embedded market knowledge, and strategic business insights tailored to our clients’ needs.

The firm is also a recognized international leader in representing venture capital and private equity investment funds. With extensive international experience, our attorneys provide general counsel, fund formation and investor representation services to hundreds of the world’s leading venture capital and private equity firms.

We are consistently recognized as the leader in venture capital and growth equity fund formations and equity financings, routinely earning the highest industry rankings from PitchBook, Chambers & Partners, Legal 500, Best Lawyers, and others.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2024:
Boston College Law School, Boston University School of Law, Columbia University Law School, Cornell Law School, Harvard Law School, New York University School of Law, Stanford Law School, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, UCLA School of Law, University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, University of Michigan Law School, University of Southern California Gould School of Law and The University of Texas School of Law

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Lavender Law and The Boston Lawyers Group Annual Diversity Job Fair.

Summer associate profile: We look for candidates who have a demonstrated record of academic success, excellent interpersonal skills, strong business judgment and an entrepreneurial spirit. Prior work experience, especially in a technology or life sciences area at a startup or in a VC environment, and/or participation in transactional and/or entrepreneurship clinics or student organizations is a plus. JD/MBA candidates are encouraged to apply.

Summer program components: Our Summer Program is offered in our Ann Arbor, Bay Area, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Diego offices. It is designed to give you hands-on experience and better insight into life as a junior associate at Gunderson Dettmer. You’ll work directly with partners and associates in our three core practice areas: Corporate, Fund Formation, and Strategic Transactions & Licensing (“Tech/IP Group”).

As a Summer Associate, you will take on a variety of work assignments on projects that may include: venture financings, commercial transactions, mergers and acquisitions, technology licensing, privacy compliance, venture fund formation and a range of other impactful and substantive work for our clients. Throughout the summer, you will participate in a robust training program to enable you to take on meaningful assignments and participate in a variety of social events to further acquaint you with the firm and our attorneys. By the end of our program you will have gained direct experience with the emerging technology marketplace and insight into building a career at Gunderson Dettmer.

Social media:
Recruitment website: www.gunder.com/careers
LinkedIn: gunderson-dettmer

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Technology: Transactions (Band 3)
    • Venture Capital (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
    • Technology (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
    • Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
    • Technology (Band 4)

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