This startups' top Gun is on a lateral hiring spree to expand its niche practices.
“EVERY startup uses Gunderson!” boldly exaggerated a junior lawyer, who was proud to have chosen Gunderson over a broader BigLaw firm. Over the past year, tech has been one of the few transactional areas of law to thrive: times of crisis call for ingenuity and accelerate our development. In February we reported how transactional lawyers are climbing over each other in 2020–21 to get a slice of the tech pie while their analogue companies flounder. So (summoning the voice of Chandler Bing) could there BE a more exciting time to consider a career in emerging companies?
“The best way to describe who we are is to call ourselves the outside general counsel for startups.”
Chambers USA ranks this specialist firm nationwide as top dog both for its venture capital fund formation practice and its startups & emerging companies work. Its private equity focus in the venture capital investment practice also performs well in Massachusetts. And in its home state of California, as well as tech transactional work, the firm earns recognition for its skills in employee benefits and executive compensation. This focus was a crucial point for associates when choosing the firm: “Gunderson is by far and away the leader in the venture fund formation space. Similar to Kirkland's dominance in the PE middle-market space, Gunderson represents most of the top-tier venture firms in their fund formation matters.”
TOP READ: Working with emerging companies: it's a whole other ball game to serving long-established companies. Four Gunderson lawyers share the ins and outs of what it's like to work for these innovative clients.
Associates were also drawn to the “more relaxed West Coast-style culture and quality of life, while also having an interesting career advancement path.” What’s also noteworthy is the firm’s niche of offering practices solely in the transactional space.
Strategy & Future
“There’s no doubt that the firm is growing at a really fast pace, but at the same time, I don’t think they’re looking to expand base-wise. It’s more a matter of ramping up their existing practice areas and making sure they’re well staffed to meet the increased demand,” explained one corporate junior. The New York base shifted from its office on 42nd Street to 31st Street in Broadway during the pandemic, and associates are “very excited to go back to the new office.” Another added: “The firm tends to hire more laterals than focusing on growth internally. I feel like every other person is a lateral and perhaps this focus on lateral hiring is promising in filling the ranks.”
“It’s more a matter of ramping up their existing practice areas and making sure they’re well staffed to meet the increased demand.”
With the wave of recent top hires into a range of practice groups, this certainly seems to be the case: Heidi Walas has been added to the firm’s emerging companies practice in the Silicon Valley office, while Romica Singh, from Cravath, has also joined Gunderson as a partner and a member of its executive compensation practice over in New York. Jay DelMonico, a former Greenberg Traurig shareholder, has also joined the firm as a debt financing partner in Boston. Reflecting on the relative youth of the firm and its recent growth spurt, sources informed us of Gunderson’s drive to bulk out support areas, including attorney development and knowledge management.
Gunderson offers coaching opportunities to midlevel and senior associates. For some, this takes the form of external career coaches with whom attorneys can “have an open discussion about career progression.” Junior sources appreciated the support they got throughout the firm, especially in the reviews: “Partners would tell us they’re here to help us with whatever we need, whether that’s setting up our client network or helping us advance to a different career path.” For those who don't stay for the long haul, corporate associates often go in-house to a fund or another client, and those in the tech group might go in-house to companies such as Airbnb, Google or Facebook.
The firm provides a host of trainings across the practice areas. “We have a week-long boot camp for first and second-years in the tech group, and we go through everything we do in our job, all day, every day. It’s overwhelming as a first-year but once you have that knowledge renewed in your second year, you really appreciate it,” considered one junior. The group is also treated to external expertise from speakers coming in to talk about niche issues faced in the market.
"I’m blown away by how much agency we have in determining our schedule.”
The largest number of juniors on our list were based in the firm’s office in Silicon Valley. New York followed, then Boston, with the remaining handful split between the San Diego and LA offices, and a couple in San Francisco and Ann Arbor. Over half of juniors joined the firm’s corporate group. Of the remaining half, they were split up between the the venture funds group and the licensing, strategic partnering & commercial transactions group (or the tech group for short).
Work assignment differs between offices. For example, there are staffing coordinators that manage staffing for the corporate and tech groups in New York and the Northern California offices. A tech group junior explained: “They check in with us to see our bandwidth for the week and we update it throughout. They then go in order of each partner and distribute the work evenly, and it works really well. We now have weekly calls with the head partner to check in and see if we’re okay.” One corporate associate said there was still a lot of freedom to explore: “There really is a lot of latitude for you to accept or reject work based on your hours. I’m blown away by how much agency we have in determining our schedule.”
Gunderson’s corporate group stays focused on the firm’s specialism: “we handle general corporate matters for startups as well as representing venture capital and growth equity firms on their emerging company matters.” Juniors in Silicon Valley mentioned how “the San Francisco office and the Silicon Valley base generally function as one office.” The team supports venture-backed companies at all stages of their life cycle: handling the complexities of M&A and capital markets deals; “equity issuances and corporate maintenance on the back end, making sure the companies are in compliance with the charters and bylaws.” On the venture deals, the group represents both the company side and investor side, and “there’s also a smattering of other transactional work such as tender offerings and mergers.” Juniors can expect to manage drafting issues, run logistics and have a hand at advising clients. “More than half the time, the buck stops with me in terms of advising clients, which I then send to a partner for sign off,” explained one source.
Corporate clients: Flipkart, Flywire, PlayGiga. Represented CTRL-Labs, a startup specializing in enabling humans to control computers using their brains, in its acquisition by Facebook, with a matter value between $500 million and $1 billion.
The tech group is pretty generalist and handles “a few buckets of work. We mostly handle a lot of commercial agreements and licensing agreements, and then comes the diligence on financings and reviewing commercial agreements on the IP side.” Our sources explained how “the best way to describe who we are is to call ourselves the outside general counsel for startups.”
“Everybody is kind. Seriously, everybody."
Client bases vary slightly by office based on the local markets: New York sources saw a lot of e-commerce, advertising and media, consumer products and financial services clients, while those in Boston came across "the predictable biotech, pharmaceuticals and life sciences work," as well as financial services and software companies. California“handles the Tesla-type clients" – the Northern Cali offices also handle e-commerce and financial services work, while the Southern Cali teams see more in the media and consumer products spaces. There's more life sciences and software work to be found in the Midwest, as well as B2B matters.
There are still a lot of software-based companies handled throughout the network. We heard the group recently decided to “build out its privacy specialism, and so now there is a dedicated privacy subgroup. Tech associates still help out on day-to-day client queries and put together their privacy policies.” The team offers juniors a “structured approach” to gaining substantive experience: “First-years do the bulk of communicating by driving client calls and getting the first draft of documents.” Second and third-years “run the disclosure schedule and take turns at marking up merger agreements. It’s been great interacting with clients every day, as it’s fun to see what new products they come up with and their advertising campaigns,” beamed one New York junior.
Tech group clients: Vox Media, online pharmacy Capsule, vaccine developer Affinivax. Represented Cohesity, an enterprise data storage startup, in its $250 million Series E financing led by a number of VC funds.
Diversity & Inclusion
Following a successful women’s retreat for female associates and partners out in Napa, “the firm really has stepped up its diversity efforts in recruiting and retention.” It recently launched a diversity fellowship offering 1L students a place on the summer program in the New York, Boston, or Silicon Valley office.
Associates thought Gunderson was doing well on gender diversity at associate level. Affinity groups have recently hosted Zoom events, such as a happy hour for Pride, and there’s also been a lot of discussion following the BLM movement, “with great participation and a host of emails to facilitate it. We also made donations to the movement which the firm matched, so it’s good to see them step up and show support.”
Support surrounding mental health and wellbeing was presented in the form of informal catch-ups and “partners constantly reaching out to check in. The chats feel very comfortable, especially if we’re overwhelmed and they will help us to shift things around in terms of workload.” Sources felt that, even though “there aren’t many formal support mechanisms in place, the partners and seniors have been unbelievable, and that’s what we appreciate.”
As we frequently find with boutique-style firms, a supportive and collaborative atmosphere runs through the culture of Gunderson. “This may sound odd, but I’m pretty amazed by just how human and understanding the partners are.” Another junior, without any prompting, echoed their colleague: “Everybody is kind. Seriously, everybody. Not everybody is going to be your favorite to work with, as you might have conflicting work or communication styles, but Gunderson does not hire jerks.”
“We wear jeans to the office, and you really can’t tell who’s the partner and who’s an associate.”
Some noted a slight cultural difference between the offices, where, for example “the San Francisco office clears out by 5pm at the latest and there’s certainly more of a casual startup vibe there with the open working spaces. Whereas in New York, we take our own offices rather than working in a big pit, but we’re still very sociable.” Regardless of the location, the firm’s bases as a whole are “very laid back. We wear jeans to the office, and you really can’t tell who’s the partner and who’s an associate. All the partners are pretty young too.” The New York office's weekly breakfast meetings have moved online for now, as well as monthly happy hours. “We also love grabbing lunch together. Anytime anyone new starts at the firm, we’re all reimbursed for our lunches for a month to encourage us to go out and socialize with colleagues.”
Our interviewees thought pro bono wasn’t a huge focus at the firm. “It’s very much ad hoc. if you have an existing relationship with an organization, you can get a partner to sign it off,” explained one source. Another added: “We don’t have an official pro bono coordinator in place, we just get some emails about pro bono clients.” The reasoning is that Gunderson is still a relatively young firm, so the lack of a real pro bono program “is part of the growing pains.” In the past, associates have worked with organizations such as The Character Connection Initiative, The Financial Clinic, and Brooklyn Children's Theatre.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target
Associates can clock up to 100 'investment hours' toward the billing target. These can be made up of diversity and inclusion activities, recruitment involvement, and preparing and leading training sessions. “Last year was the first time the firm issued a public target,” noted juniors. Hitting the target will get you the full bonus and if you don’t, “there’s a tiered system in place to award a discretionary bonus.”
Gunderson plays in the big league, which means there's no escaping the BigLaw time commitment. “There are plenty of hours to go around, sometimes too many! Gunderson attorneys value things outside of work including hobbies and social events, but matters can be tough to handle when junior associates are often the point of contact for clients," shared one associate. "Startup founders aren't known to take evenings, weekends, or even holidays off.” On average, juniors would walk in around 9:30am, and depending on the workload, “leave the office around 7pm to then work from home and log off around 11pm.” Associates were, however, grateful for the compensation matching the top end of the national market.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 321
Interviewees outside OCI: 16
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 Berkeley, BC, BU, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, Harvard, Hastings, Howard, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Stanford, UCLA, USC, and University of Texas. Gunderson also makes an appearance at the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair and Lavender Law. The firm sees between 20 and 40 students at each campus or job fair.
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
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 191
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
During Gunderson’s ten-week 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
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 in to the OCI interview room.”
Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian
550 Allerton Street, Redwood City,
- Head Office: Redwood City, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: Undisclosed
- Partners (US): 93
- Associates (US): 250
- Counsel (US): 18
- Main recruitment contacts:
- Colleen McNulty email@example.com
- Diversity officers: Jane Rhee, Chief Talent Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 22
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 6, 2Ls: 28
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: Bay Area: 14, Boston: 7, New York: 11, LA: 2
- Summer salary 2020: 1Ls and 2Ls: $3,654 per week
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Corporate - We support technology and life science companies at every stage of their life cycle, from formation through multiple financings and M&A or IPO transactions.
Licensing, Strategic Partnering & Commercial Transactions - Our Tech Group serves as ‘outside in-house counsel’ for licensing, joint venturing, and other IP-centric transactions.
Funds - We represent venture capital funds in their formation and as they invest their capital.
Tax - We advise founders, executives and investors on tax matters at each stage of the business growth cycle.
Executive Compensation - We have worked with thousands of companies to design, draft and administer compensation plans and arrangements that drive growth and success.
Our focus on venture-backed companies and venture capital firms allows attorneys to work in their chosen practice area and provides a commonality that further promotes collegiality and comradery. Starting in their first month, attorneys interact with founders, CEOs and/or investors and build relationships with clients, which enable us to become extensions of their management teams as they prepare for their next stage of growth.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021: Boston College Law School, Boston University School of Law, Columbia University Law School, Cornell Law School, Duke University School of Law, Fordham University School of Law, Georgetown Law, Harvard Law School, Howard University School of Law, New York University School of Law, Northwestern University School of Law, Stanford Law School, UCLA School of Law, University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Hastings College of the Law, University of Chicago Law School, University of Michigan Law School, University of Southern California Gould School of Law, 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 seek candidates who have strong interpersonal skills and thrive in a collaborative environment, as well as those who connect with the entrepreneurial spirit of our clients. Prior work experience, especially with a technology or life science company and/or in a start-up or VC environment, is helpful in developing solid business judgement, which is essential for servicing our clients. JD/MBA candidates are encouraged to apply.
Summer program components: Summers Associates are exposed to a variety of matters in our core practices. They are integrated into client teams through our work assignment process, allowing them to have a variety of client interactions throughout the summer, including attending board meetings. We conduct a robust training program to enable them to take on meaningful assignments and have a variety of social events to further acquaint them with the firm and our attorneys.
Recruitment website: www.gunder.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
- Technology: Transactions (Band 3)
- Venture Capital (Band 1)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 2)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
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