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by Travis Whitsitt | April 01, 2024

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An attorney in an EC/VC practice advises early-stage companies on every legal matter the companies face, from formation to several rounds of venture financings to a sale or an IPO. Emerging Companies attorneys are corporate generalists for the clients and often serve as “outside general counsel” for startup clients before the clients are large enough to hire in-house attorneys. They work with founders to choose the best corporate form (corporation, LLC, etc.), and draft the appropriate forms to create the company. They advise companies on how shares will be valued and divided among various stakeholders. Start-up lawyers help develop a company’s internal policies and procedures and serve as corporate secretaries. They work on the legal documentation for various rounds of private financing and ultimately help navigate an “exit event”—an IPO or acquisition. Junior lawyers often have a lot of client contact and responsibility from an early stage as startups can not generally afford to pay senior attorneys’ billing rates. The relationships with founders can often lead to an invitation to join the company when it is in a position to hire its first in-house lawyer. Startup practices are heavily concentrated in certain markets, including San Francisco and Silicon Valley, as well as Boston, New York (Silicon Alley), and increasingly in Southern California (Silicon Beach).

The five top-ranked Emerging Companies/Venture Capital (ECVC) firms based on Vault’s 2024 ECVC prestige rankings are Cooley; Wilson Sonsini; Gunderson; Fenwick; and Goodwin. Below are a few relevant highlights about each of these firms.

Cooley

Cooley sits at #1 in our ECVC prestige rankings, and is also the country's top firm for Privacy & Data Security and #24 in the overall Vault Law 100. The firm employs over 1,000 attorneys out of 12 U.S. and six international offices. Associates describe the culture as collaborative and welcoming. The firm has a fairly standard billable hour requirement, but associates are busier than they would like to be. Partnership is realistic and transparent, non-partner senior roles are both available and viable, and exit opportunities are strong.

Wilson Sonsini

Landing at #2 in Vault’s 2024 ECVC prestige rankings, #32 in the overall Vault Law 100, the #27 overall Best Law Firm to Work For, the #30 firm overall in our Law Firm Diversity Rankings, and the host of the #48 overall overall Best Summer Program, Wilson Sonsini is flush with accolades. The firm employs over 1,000 attorneys out of 14 U.S. and five international offices. Associates describe the culture as pleasant and respectful, and the billable hour requirement is an achievable 1,950. Partnership is transparent and realistic, and non-partner roles and exit opportunities are each plentiful and strong.

Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve & Hachigian, LLP

Ranked at #3 in Vault’s 2024 ECVC prestige rankings, Gunderson is #74 in the overall Vault Law 100. They employ over 250 attorneys out of eight U.S. and three international offices. Associates describe the culture as collaborative and comfortable, and the firm has a standard billable hour requirement. Partnership is realistic with a transparent but difficult path, and with the firm's hyper focus on venture capital work, in-house exit opportunities are very strong.

Fenwick

Fenwick operates six U.S. and one international office, and employs over 500 attorneys. In addition to being the #4 ECVC firm, Fenwick is #67 in the overall Vault Law 100, the #15 overall Best Law Firm to Work For, and the #26 overall  Best Law Firm for Diversity. Associates here describe the culture as supportive and friendly, with flexible billable hour requirements and pro rata compensation arrangements available to associates. Partnership here is realistic and transparent, and exit opportunities are very strong.

Goodwin

Goodwin sits at #5 in our ECVC prestige rankings, and is also #27 in the overall Vault Law 100. Goodwin employs over 1,500 attorneys out of eight U.S. and eight international offices. Associates describe the culture as conscientious and friendly. The firm has a fairly standard billable hour requirement of 1,950, and has a hybrid work policy requiring three in-office days per week. Partnership is transparent and realistic for those willing to make the effort; that said, Goodwin offers viable long-term counsel roles and excellent exit opportunities.

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Obviously, there is a huge amount of overlap between the country's best ECVC firms and the most prestigious firms overall, and a lot of these firms also rank amongst our Best Law Firms to Work For. If you have both the pedigree to get offers from these firms and are interested in one of the nicer places to work, any one of these five firms should be of significant interest to you.

Best of luck from all of us at Vault Law on your legal job search!

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