With specialist expertise in emerging companies and venture capital, it’s no wunderson this Cali-born firm is a first choice for tech newcomers.
Given that the folks at Gunderson Dettmer represent more than 2,500 high-growth technology and life sciences companies – with a particular focus on start-ups – it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the firm culture “feels more like a tech start-up than a law firm!” For example, associates highlighted that “the partners aren’t wearing suits and ties, they’re wearing T-shirts and sneakers.” In fact, start-ups are the lifeblood of the firm. Gunderson is one of the only international law firms that is focused solely on the emerging companies and venture capital space, and we can see why. Chambers USAawards the firm a top-tier nationwide ranking in start-ups & emerging companies, as well as impressive state rankings for tech transactions, venture capital, and venture capital investment in California and Massachusetts.
“…more like a tech start-up than a law firm.”
With offices in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, California is undoubtedly the firm’s stronghold. That’s not to say that the West Coast is the firm’s sole focus, especially with New York emerging as a secondary hub in the world of tech and venture capital: “Though New York is smaller than Silicon Valley, it is growing incredibly quickly,” Ryan Purcell, venture capital partner at Gunderson, tells us. “Growth equity funds and crossover investors are raising tens of billions of dollars at a time.” Naturally then, Gunderson’s New York presence has become an increasing point of focus for the firm: “It’s certainly the best-in-class firm in the venture capital/start-up space in NYC,” one associate in the city explained. “We’ve got the resources and freedom to operate in a way that is devoted to our tech industry clients.” Indeed, Gunderson’s New York office is the second largest by headcount. Around a third of the juniors our list were in Silicon Valley, another third in New York, with the remaining third split between Ann Arbor, Boston, LA, and San Diego.
TOP READ: Working with emerging companies - the view from Gunderson
Perhaps unusually for a firm of its size, Gunderson’s work is restricted to transactional practices, but associates at the firm were quick to highlight the benefits of this approach: “The things that make sense from a business perspective in litigation groups don’t necessarily align with the interests of transactional groups,” one associate explained. “At Gunderson, there is a strategic alignment across offices and practices because they closely relate to one another, both from a business standpoint and an interest standpoint.” Most juniors at the firm set up shop in the corporate group, with the remaining associates split between technology and tax.
According to associates, work assignment is typically practice-group specific: “The tax group for example is quite small, I think there’s only around 11 of us, and once a week we submit a sheet detailing how busy we are.” For those more established at the firm, however, it can more closely resemble a free market system: “I’ll preface this with the fact that I summered with Gunderson,” one source added, “but I treat it very much like a free market system. I have a list of partners that I want to work with, and I reach out to them. That being said, not everyone has established the same degree of connectivity yet.” If you work with a particular client, chances are you’ll be brought in on matters your practice group does with them again in the future. “But they don’t want us to burn out, so they encourage you to turn down work if you’re suffering,” interviewees added.
"What’s fascinating is that these guys are smart, maybe genius-level engineers, but they are not experienced business owners, so there’s a lot of hand-holding around the legal compliance of their businesses."
“We have three main practice groups, but corporate is the main base,” one associate explained. As a firm built around its work with emerging companies, the majority of Gunderson’s are corporateentities with clients ranging from industry leaders worth tens of billion to emerging managers raising their first funds in the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America. One source elaborated: "We are essentially the first port of call for everything – we are the in-house counsel for a lot of these companies before they hire a lawyer.” In this capacity as general corporate counsel, associates at the firm get the chance to assist entrepreneurs in the development of their businesses: “What’s fascinating is that these guys are smart, maybe genius-level engineers, but they are not experienced business owners,” one associate explained, “so there’s a lot of hand-holding around the legal compliance of their businesses. Some people don’t like that aspect of company side work, but I personally love it.”
TOP READ: Becoming a venture capital lawyer: Gunderson's expert attorneys tell all about working in the exciting world of venture capital.
The other side of the corporate coin is financing transactions – “managing these transactions all the way through to exit, be that a merger or acquisition or an initial public offering.” Interviewees in the group felt the benefit of taking a first stab at almost anything: “It really feels like you can quarterback the whole deal here, taking first pass at drafting documents, sending summaries to partners, and managing the closing. You can really get a taste of all of it as a junior.”
Corporate clients: Boingo, Stack Overflow, and Service Channel. Represented grocery delivery platform Cornershop as Uber transitioned from being a majority stakeholder to having sole ownership of the company.
“When I graduated from law school, I knew I wanted to be a tax attorney, and when I joined my first firm, they said, ‘so, do you want to work in New York or DC?’ and I said, neither!” Luckily for associates at Gunderson who are interested in tax, you won’t necessarily be shipped off to the East Coast. The tax group advises both founders and investors on the tax matters that arise at every stage of a business’s life cycle: “I spend at least 50% of my time working on deal work, fund work, or M&A work, making sure that the tax provisions in the transaction documents are correct,” one associate in the group explained. “My remaining time is split between handling questions from the corporate team, and more novel research on things like cryptocurrency transactions.”
“…you end up having those interesting theoretical conversations you have in law school, but don’t expect to have as an attorney.”
The opportunity for detailed research into these developing aspects of tax law is something attorneys in the group were keen to tell us about: “It’s neat to be thinking about undetermined law where the IRS hasn’t issued any guidance on it,” one junior in the group remarked, “so you end up having those interesting theoretical conversations you have in law school but don’t expect to have as an attorney.” The tax group is also closely aligned with the firm's funds formation team and we were told that "many of the firm's fund formation attorneys would also call themselves tax attorneys."
Fund formation clients: 8VC, Ace Redpoint, Canvas Ventures. Represented NewView Capital Management in the formation and closing of its first $1.35 billion fund.
As one associate summarized: “The Gunderson culture is unapologetically intellectually curious.” Indeed, an authentic interest in the products their clients work with is a big part of what makes the attorneys at Gunderson tick: “I like to describe us as friendly, loveable nerds!” one source joked; “in fact, one of the things we look for in our interview process is a genuine interest in tech start-ups.” The firm’s West Coast roots translate to a more relaxed culture, from positive partner/associate relationships to a more informal dress code. “At our office in Silicon Valley, we have a Kombucha keg in the office, it’s very ‘Silicon Valley’.”
“…we might play a bit of Mario Kart in the breakroom after lunch before we go back to work!”
“Partners have reached out to us to remind us that the firm’s ‘no a**holes’ policy only works if you feel empowered to push back if people are acting like your typical BigLaw jerk,” one associate told us. They quickly added that “it’s the exception if anyone is anything other than really genuinely appreciative and nice.” Associates felt that they could talk candidly with partners if things were getting too much: “Everyone acknowledges that this is a hard job, this last year was the busiest year in venture capital history, so we might play a bit of Mario Kart in the breakroom after lunch before we go back to work!” To ensure all the work gets done, sources added that there is never a reluctance among partners at the firm to get stuck in too: “The partners really roll up their sleeves, there’s no concept of work being below somebody’s pay grade,” one junior in NYC remarked.
For associates at Gunderson, their long-term future at the firm is taken into consideration from the off: “They assume that we are going to be here for the long haul, and base their decisions on that assumption.” A trend at the firm is that many attorneys find their way into in-house positions at some stage, “but hopefully those companies will become clients, so the firm is aware that Gunderson alumni can support us from afar!” One thing that’s unique to Gunderson is that sometimes associates leave earlier in their careers to go in-house, but then return to the firm further down the line and make partner: “For me as a junior, it was interesting to see that people got other opportunities and then chose to come back.”
Juniors also felt invested in via trainings and mentorship: “They are deeply invested in making sure that we are well rounded. The level of mentorship that I have seen around here is unlike anything else that I have seen in BigLaw, both formally and informally.” Alongside general knowledge sessions and updates in the law, juniors appreciated that “there are also opportunities for us to lead trainings and have our say in the teaching schedule.”
Hours, Compensation & Pro Bono
Billable hours: 1,950 target
Average hours at the firm were slightly below market average according to the data we received from our survey: “A normal week is somewhere between 45 and 55 hours,” one associate explained. “The general take we have is: work smarter, not harder.” The firm has a billable hours target of 1,950 hours, and associates told us that the firm doesn’t expect its attorneys to be working beyond that: “I’ve never got the feeling that I should be well above that; if anything, I’ve been subtly discouraged from going anything above that.” Indeed, associates felt the firm stayed true to its values, while keeping some of the perks of BigLaw: “You have the big firm salary, and the interesting clients, but with relaxed dress codes, and co-workers that you are actually friends with.”
"Corporate work for non-profits or helping students on university campuses."
As one source put it: “Practically speaking, litigation lends itself really well to pro bono work. So at a firm that only does transactional work, it’s unlikely that you are going to spend a significant amount of time working on pro bono matters.” That being said, the firm is looking seriously into improving its pro bono offering: “This might involve doing corporate work for non-profits or helping students on university campuses who are trying to be start-up founders but can’t afford attorneys.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Gunderson sits in the top half of the firms we survey by percentage of ethnic minority partners, and the firm has introduced a push in lateral recruiting and summer recruiting with respect to diversity: “I think something like over 70% of the new incoming class of laterals and summers are people who are diverse,” one associate estimated.
“It’s helpful as a young woman to look at that and say, yeah, it’s realistic.”
There has also been a push in increasing gender diversity at a partnership level too. In 2022 the firm promoted 15 attorneys to partnership, including nine women and people of color. One source told us: "It’s helpful as a young woman to look at that and say, yeah, it’s realistic.”
Strategy & Future
“The biggest development is that we have grown our headcount by more than 30%.” Marcia Hatch, corporate and securities partner and leader of the firm’s Ann Arbor office, explains. “This growth has come across all of our practice groups and in all of our offices, including Austin, which we opened last year.” This growth has undoubtedly benefited the firm’s areas of strength, too: “Over a third of every venture capital dollar raised worldwide was negotiated by our attorneys.” As Jeff Higgins, founding partner of Gunderson’s San Diego and Los Angeles offices, adds: “One thing we all learned during COVID was just how resilient the venture ecosystem is. Entrepreneurs continue to build new companies, and venture capital and growth equity funds continue to invest.”
COMING SOON: Gunderson tell us more about lawyer life in regions including Michigan, Texas, and Latin America
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 499
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
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.
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: undisclosed
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): 106
- Associates (US): 319
- Counsel (US): 19
- Main recruitment contacts:
- Colleen McNulty email@example.com, Director of Legal Recruiting
- Diversity officers: Jane Rhee, Chief Talent Officer; Michele Logan, Diversity and Inclusion Manager
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 39
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 1Ls: 14 ; 2Ls: 48; 2 SEO
- Fellows Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: Austin: 3, Bay Area: 20, Boston: 10, New York: 26, LA: 4, San Diego: 3
- Summer salary 2022: 1Ls and 2Ls: $4,135 per week
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Corporate Representation: Supporting technology and life science companies with comprehensive business and strategic advice at every stage of their life cycle. Company formation, financing rounds, and exit strategies including M&A and IPO transactions.
Licensing, Strategic Partnering & Commercial Transactions: Unmatched strategic transactional experience as ‘outside in-house counsel’ for licensing, joint venturing, and other IP-centric transactions.
Funds: We serve as general counsel to more than 450 venture capital and growth equity firms in their formation and as they invest their capital.
Tax: Advising founders, executives and investors on tax matters at each stage of the business growth cycle. From formation to financing to exit, we provide guidance on structuring transactions and ongoing counsel for tax planning and compliance issues.
Executive Compensation: We have worked with thousands of companies to design, draft and administer compensation plans and arrangements that drive growth and success.
Gunderson Dettmer is the preeminent international law firm with an exclusive focus on the innovation economy to include the most sophisticated venture capital investors, entrepreneurs and startups from formation to maturity, through M&A or IPO. The firm is also known for representing groundbreaking public companies that result from the global venture capital ecosystem.
With an exclusive focus on rapidly evolving technology and life sciences industries, we attract talent that is hungry to be a part of the innovation economy. We have unmatched experience and technical acumen that allows us to predict, prioritize, and produce strategic solutions for our clients at every business phase.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2022: Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, Brigham Young University, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell, Duke University, Emory University, Fordham, University of Southern California, Georgetown, Harvard, UC Hastings , Howard University, UC Irvine, UCLA, University of Michigan, Northwestern University, New York University, Santa Clara, Stanford and The University of Texas
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 receive hands-on experience through a variety of matters in our core practices: corporate, fund and licensing, strategic partnering and commercial transactions. Each Summer Associate is 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, including mock transactions, 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. Mentorship is also an integral part of our Summer Program, which facilitates the transition from law school to firm life. Summer Associates are paired with partner and associate mentors who act as their guides throughout the Summer Program and ensure they are getting a well-rounded experience.
Recruitment website: www.gunder.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- 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: Fund Formation (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
- Technology (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
- Technology (Band 4)
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