This Silicon Valley-headquartered firm is a leader in venture capital, tech and emerging companies.
“I WAS most interested in reputation and prestige,” asserted one Gunderson junior while explaining why they were first drawn to this firm. Well, Gunderson certainly has both: take a look at the firm’s Chambers USA rankings and you’ll find that it rules the nation when it comes to work for startups and emerging companies, especially when it comes to venture capital and fund formation matters. “What I had heard about Gunderson was that it was super-specialized in startup law,” an interviewee recalled, while another chimed in: “In the emerging company and venture capital spaces Gunderson’s name definitely carries a lot of weight – and those were the spaces that I was interested in.”
While Gunderson’s roots are in sunny California (where it has offices in Silicon Valley, LA, San Francisco and San Diego), juniors were aware of the firm’s scope beyond the Golden State: “Now Gunderson has a really predominant market share in New York,” an interviewee felt. In addition, the firm’s made a splash in Boston, where it picks up a high Chambers USA ranking for (you guessed it) venture capital investment work. Gunderson’s remaining domestic base is situated in Ann Arbor, while the firm’s overseas presence consists of offices in Beijing and Singapore. A good spread of offices is one thing, but culture is another crucial consideration factor: our interviewees had also screened other Cali tech hotshots like Wilson Sonsini, Cooley and Fenwick, but in the end Gunderson’s “relatively informal vibe and atmosphere” won out.
Gunderson’s corporate department absorbed most of the juniors on our list, while the IP/technology transactions practice also took on a large number. The firm’s funds and executive compensation & employee benefits practices took on a couple of associates apiece. In the IP/technology transactions practice, interviewees were mostly assigned work by partners. “They do a wonderful job and allocate your workload after gauging your availability,” one commented, while another added that “generally once you start working with a client you then become that go-to person for questions about them.” In corporate, a more formalized structure has replaced a free-market assignment system: “There’s a staffing coordinator who receives requests from seniors and partners; they then look at the associates to see who has potential availability, but they also focus on giving us matters that we want to work on.”
“We’re known for working in a specific space,” a source in the corporate department commented. “We handle everything that a startup company needs to do on the corporate side, so debt financings, equity financings, mergers and acquisitions, IPOs on the public side, working with venture capital firms on the private side…” Across the offices, we heard that “financings are the bread and butter,” although in New York an interviewee told us that “there’s been a big wave of M&A activity in the tech startup world; we’ve been representing a lot of companies on the sell side of M&A deals.”Boston is “known for its work with biotech startups” while Silicon Valley has reportedly been “growing a public company practice – if companies go public then we want to be on that deal!” Interviewees were very happy with their responsibility levels: “You definitely get more responsibility compared to other firms. In your first couple of months you’re drafting ancillary documents. By your sixth month they’re counting on you to run some smaller financings. By the end of the year you play a large part in drafting the main documents for larger financings, where the company is getting a valuation worth over a billion dollars. The learning curve is steep!” One source especially liked how “you get to grow your practice while your clients grow their company. You get to know the CEOs of these companies. You wouldn’t get that at a firm where you’re working with large institutional clients.”
Clients: Shutterstock, digital media company Vox Media and digital product design platform InVision. Recently served as international and M&A counsel to Flipkart as Walmart paid $16 billion for a majority stake in the company, which currently stands as India’s largest e-commerce marketplace.
Over in the IP/technology transactions practice, “we oversee the general commercial needs of startups,” a junior confirmed. In practice, work for associates “stretches from dealing with commercial contracts to assisting with M&A and financing deals to contributing to disputes over a contract issue.” An interviewee told us that “you do gain familiarity with the whole spectrum of IP,” including patent matters. Our sources had spent their days “negotiating important contracts like service and licensing agreements,” as well as drafting privacy policies for “a good sample of regional and national clients.” There can be international dimensions to the work here though, with one source highlighting a deal where the investment was being poured into a Russian company. Another source enjoyed “the day-to-day contract negotiations” the most, and felt that “you get experience in a wide variety of commercial contracts.” Another perceived plus was that “each client and each issue is so unique – you never know what issues will come up, but as you get more senior you get more accustomed to spotting any that may come up!”
“As far as law firms go, we’re still relatively new – just thirty years,” a source in New York commented. “Compared to the institutional players with established training processes, we’re still developing.” We heard of the appointment of a chief career development officer in August 2018, who is currently developing “an attorney knowledge department.” In addition, we were told of “a couple of training programs” for juniors in their first two years to complete, “monthly meetings with a speaker on a topic,” and a “mid-level training program that prepares you for the transition into the senior associate ranks.” Formal mentors are also appointed, but sources mostly cited the support gained from informal mentors, who were deemed to be “very invested in developing my career” by one interviewee.
“Once you hit year five you start having those conversations with your partner mentor and during your annual review” to ascertain “if there’s an opportunity here” to make partner, an interviewee revealed. While partnership is a destination for some, we were told that “more associates leave each year than make partner.” Gunderson is reportedly “super supportive” to those who wish to move elsewhere, but this interviewee highlighted that they’d “never seen a Gunderson associate leave for another law firm because we have a great culture.”
“The culture here weeds out the people who don’t get the Gunderson mold,” one associate explained, while another told us something similar: “The firm does a great job with regards to hiring associates who fit in.” So what do potential recruits need to gel with? Well, in Silicon Valley we were told that “it’s very lively here. It’s an extroverted environment. We have Mario Kart to play and Kombucha beer on tap. It’s a start up culture, which is enjoyable, but I can see it being quite exclusive and people not feeling comfortable in it. You kinda know if you want to come here.” A colleague agreed and relayed that “it’s a pretty vibrant office. We have a demographic of people here who are close to 30 and like being around each other and making friends. I’ve been on trips to Vegas with associates, and we regularly go out for drinks on a Friday night. That is super different to a more family-oriented place. The Gunderson culture is one where people regularly hang out – even on weekends.”
Diversity & Inclusion
On the gender front, the view from New York was positive, with a source here pointing out that “the majority of attorneys in the office are women.” They also felt that there was a good representation of racial and ethnic minorities in the Big Apple base too. The message from across the offices was that Gunderson has been formalizing its diversity and inclusion efforts of late, with the firm's chief development officer spearheading initiatives alongside a diversity sub-committee, which is made up of partners. A source felt it was important to note that “while diversity initiatives are being put in place currently, there has long been an unwritten undercurrent of cultivating diversity and it’s been at the forefront of associates’ minds.” They added that Gunderson had “naturally done a good job” when it came to recruiting diverse candidates, and other sources agreed that recruitment was a strong area for the firm: “I think they’ve mainly been trying to implement diversity and inclusion through hiring.”
“It’s something that we need to work on as a firm,” said one corporate associate. Our sources hadn’t had too much involvement in pro bono work and highlighted that “there’s no formalized pro bono coordinator or pro bono initiatives that come through the firm.” One source we spoke to had picked up a pro bono assignment through a friend who worked in another sector. They told us: “When people do pro bono, it’s usually sourced from outside the firm.” However, we did find examples of a few partners and associates on Gunderson’s website who are involved in pro bono matters, such as Harvard’s i-lab and Law and Entrepreneurship Project, as well as the Interise Advisor Network, which assists inner-city businesses that are just starting out. The firm tells us that it has recently been identifying some new avenues for pro bono work, and that associates have been busy spearheading relationships with pro bono organizations.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
Hours & Compensation
Juniors told us that they aim for a 1,950 hour target each year. “It’s not a rigid number, and they’re pretty forgiving here if you don’t reach it.” Corporate associates found hitting this figure particularly easy, with this deal-doer informing us that “there’s plenty of work to go around. The average corporate associate is on track to hit somewhere in the range of 2,000 and 2,100 hours.” Which is good news for those seeking a hearty bonus: reaching 1,950 hours and above can entitle juniors to a market-rate bonus (and then some), but ultimately amounts are dependent on a number of factors – not just hours. Bonuses are allocated on top of Milbank-scale base compensation; Gunderson matched the new salary scale quite soon after Milbank announced its new standard-setting intentions. “The compensation is very competitive!” one source concluded.
Strategy & Future
The firm’s response to its growth in recent years came up in conversation during our interviews, with this source explaining: “There has been a lot of executive hires recently. They’ve brought in a new chief marketing officer and a new chief recruitment officer. They’re trying to build out those traditional ancillary and supportive roles. They recognize that when you pivot from 100 attorneys to a few hundred, you need to change and develop to deal with that growth.” We spoke to managing partners Ivan Gaviria and Brian Patterson about the direction they're taking the firm in. "We believe there continues to be great opportunity for growth in our core business," says Gaviria. "We will continue to be a leader in representing emerging growth companies at all stages and the venture capital funds that invest in them," says Patterson, rationalizing that "we know who we are as a firm and we have stuck with that model since our inception." Click on the 'Bonus Features' tab above to read the full interview.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 271
Interviewees outside OCI: 19
Gunderson conducts OCIs at schools which are geographically close to the firm’s offices. These include Berkeley, Hastings, NYU, Colombia, BC, BU, UCLA, Harvard. The firm has made exceptions and ventured to top law schools like Michigan, Northwestern and Chicago. In particular, the firm has started attending schools with robust business law societies or entrepreneurship clinics. Gunderson may also make an appearance at the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair and Lavender Law, and participate in resume drops at schools such as Duke, University of Texas and University of Washington. The firm sees about 20 students at each campus.
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: 108
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.”
Hours & Compensation
In Silicon Valley, associates tended to start between 8.30 and 9am, and then head home between 6 and 6.30pm. However, they also highlighted that they’ll stay later if matters require it. On the whole though, they found Gunderson to be “like those more hands-off parents who give you leeway as long as you get your homework done!” Over in New York, “the majority of attorneys start by 10.30am – the office is not big on face time.” Another Big Apple interviewee added that “this office especially is really cool about working remotely. There’s no official working from home policy; the approach is based on what we see in our clients, and the tech companies have witnessed a big shift away from the traditional office-work model.” Back in Silicon Valley, an interviewee mentioned how Gunderson’s client base influences working hours and fluctuating workloads: “In the start up world we work around the venture capitalists, so August is usually a slow month as they’re often on vacation!”
We picked up on a different vibe in Gunderson’s New York office, with associates here commenting that “the office is pretty hardworking” and that the hours can be long. However, those Silicon Valley roots still make the Big Apple base “a cool New York office,” with this interviewee highlighting: “They recognize that the legal industry has a history of being white and male dominated, and they’re cognizant of the need to have a workforce that is more representative of the greater population. The office looks like it is more representative of New York, which is really cool.”
So where do associates go if they decide to move on from Gunderson? Well, the “sweet spot” for corporate associates is around the third/fourth-year mark, with attorneys typically exiting to “three buckets of places: they’ll go in-house to late-stage established companies like Airbnb and Uber, or become a GC at an early-stage start up, or they’ll become a GC at a domestic venture capital fund. They’re comfortable with people leaving, as from a business perspective it’s helpful to have an ex-Gunderson associate who’s now a GC at a fund. It builds an alumni network.”
Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian
1200 Seaport Boulevard,
- Head Office: Redwood City, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue:Undisclosed Partners (US): 78
- Associates (US): 158
- Counsel (US): 14
- Main recruitment contacts:
- Colleen McNulty firstname.lastname@example.org
- Diversity officers: Jane Rhee, Chief Talent Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 15 Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 2Ls: 19
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- NorCal: 9, New York: 7, Boston: 3
- Summer salary 2019:
- 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.
IP - Our intellectual property team 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 are interacting with founders, CEOs and/or investors and building 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 2019:
Boston College Law School, Boston University School of Law, Columbia University Law School, Harvard Law School, 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
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Bay Area Diversity Career 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, 2019
- IT & Outsourcing: Transactions (Band 3)
- Venture Capital (Band 1)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Investment Funds: Venture Capital: Fund Formation (Band 1)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)