Private Equity Lawyers
Private equity attorneys are employed by PE firms, law firms that provide legal services to funds that do not have full-time lawyers on staff, and by PE fund investors (e.g., endowment funds, pension plans, and family trusts). More than 8,400 firms actively managed private equity and private debt funds worldwide in 2019. Many are headquartered in the United States (primarily in big cities such as New York and Chicago), but firms are found throughout the world.
Vault.com publishes an annual list of the 25 Best Law Firms for Private Equity (as ranked by associates). The top five firms in 2020 were:
- Kirkland & Ellis LLP
- Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP
- Latham & Watkins LLP
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates
- Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
Visit https://www.vault.com/best-companies-to-work-for/law/best-law-firms-in-each-practice-area/private-equity to check out the list.
A career in private equity law is prestigious and lucrative, which makes it difficult to break into the field. If you can’t land a job at a PE firm, the next-best strategy is to apply for a job at a law firm that provides services to PE firms. The largest of these firms hire far more PE lawyers than are employed at any single private equity firm. For example, the international law firm Sidley has more than 80 PE lawyers in 10 offices around the world. Most small and medium-sized firms have just one or two lawyers on staff.
Another good strategy is to obtain experience as a lawyer at a Fortune 500 company, in the investment banking industry, or with a portfolio company of a PE firm. During this time, build your skills (and professional network) by joining professional associations, earning a master of laws (LL.M) degree, and taking private equity–related continuing education classes. This additional experience and education (and networking contacts) will improve your chances of landing a job at a PE firm.
To learn about job opportunities, contact law firms that specialize in private equity. Many well-known firms list job openings at their Web sites. Professional associations such as the American Bar Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel also provide job listings at their Web sites. Finally, use the resources of your law school’s career services office to help identify job opportunities and improve your job-search skills.
Opportunities for advancement at private equity firms are typically few and far between because most funds are small. Their legal departments may only consist of a chief legal officer. At small firms, PE lawyers advance by receiving pay raises and bonuses. At large firms, new graduates begin as associates, then advance to the positions of managing attorney, general counsel, and chief legal officer. Some PE attorneys become CEOs or corporate board members.
Tips for Entry
Read ACC Docket (https://www.accdocket.com) to learn more about the field.
Use the NALP Directory of Legal Employers (https://www.nalpdirectory.com) to search for employers by location, employer type, practice areas, and other criteria.
Check out https://jobline.acc.com/jobs, https://www.mcca.com, and https://www.americanbar.org/careercenter/.