Published: Dec 03, 2019
Thinking outside the box, providing practical advice, being responsive, wearing multiple hats—if you hope to approach your legal practice with these skills, focusing on emerging companies and venture capital may be for you. But what is it like working as a lawyer in the startup/emerging company arena? In Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas. lawyers from top-ranked firms share their experiences working in this area. Below are some of their insights.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
Charles Torres, Partner - Perkins Coie LLP: Emerging companies work is often fast paced, and lawyers regularly work under tight time constraints to get their work done. To be successful, a lawyer must be able to juggle competing client interests and priorities, while always keeping all clients’ needs in mind. Like many lawyers, I work in an area with an “on-demand” culture, so people expect quick responses to their questions and requests.
Paul Navarro, Associate - Perkins Coie LLP: It can be difficult to manage the incredibly high volume of clients that we counsel in our practice, especially for young associates who are trying to learn the basics of this area of law. However, with good role models, associates can quickly pick up the strategies they need to handle the many demands on their time.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Jon Avina, Partner - Cooley LLP: The biggest misconception about my practice is that we just “fill in the blanks” to the same set of contracts when nothing could be further from the truth. You quickly realize that you have the opportunity to be much more than an outside lawyer to your clients. Instead, you can be a trusted advisor to whom they turn for strategic advice that oftentimes has little to do with the law.
Giselle Rivers, Associate - Cooley LLP: Overall, people underestimate how much a corporate practice focuses on counseling and advising clients, often on non-legal issues. In this practice, it’s an expectation that you have a mastery of the substantive legal issues, but a good business sense and the ability to provide practical advice—taking into account the specifics of a client’s situation—are what set apart the most successful practitioners.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Wenting Yu, Counsel - O'Melveny & Myers LLP: Junior lawyers tend to have substantive responsibility and direct client contact earlier than they would in some other practice areas. Typical tasks include conducting legal research and due diligence; drafting primary and ancillary financing and merger documents; and assisting clients with various day-to-day legal matters such as board minutes, stock issuances/ transfers, option grants, commercial agreements, etc.
How is it different working with entrepreneurs in contrast to large corporate clients?
Dawn Belt, Partner - Fenwick & West LLP: Most entrepreneurs are not lawyers and have much higher risk tolerance than that of legal departments at large corporations. Our role is to provide tailored advice and services that address the specific needs of each particular client in each particular situation. That often means we must approach the level of explanation, and depth of exploration, of the menu of options available at each decision point very differently for these different types of clients. Being able to appropriately address these different audiences is critical for success; it’s also fun to wear the different hats, and our learnings in one area often (perhaps unexpectedly) help us improve in other areas as well.
To read the full Emerging Company & Venture Capital Q&As, along with Q&As from dozens of other practice areas, see Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas. (If you are a student, you may have access to this guide any many others for free. Check with Career Services for your Vault login!)
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Steve McManus is Senior Vice President and General Counsel at State Farm. He is a first-generation college and law student, worked for State Farm while pursuing a law degree at Seton Hall University at night, and joined the Law department in 1991. Steve has never worked in private practice—his entire legal career has been at State Farm. He is a member of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity and a member of the Board of Counselors of Equal Justice Works. His favorite band is The Clash, and his favorite TV attorney is Billy McBride from Goliath. He has a wife and two daughters, one of whom grew up to be the Associate Law Editor here at Vault and negotiated an interview about his incredible career path.
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