Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

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SamuelDanforth

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Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by SamuelDanforth » Sat Aug 15, 2020 7:56 pm

I'm looking at firms in the Bay Area with strong tech-focused corporate practices, with the long-term goal of going in-house. I know that tech trans is seen as a strong path to going in-house, but I was wondering if there is any cost to going immediately into a tech trans practice as opposed to going to a firm where junior corporate associates have the chance to work on a mix of M&A, VC, capital markets, etc? I've heard that the most marketable associates when it comes time to go in-house have wider exposure, but I don't know how to square that with the advice to look at tech trans.

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Sackboy

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by Sackboy » Sat Aug 15, 2020 8:28 pm

The best practices for going in-house (in no particular order): Corporate, Tech Transactions, L&E, Tax, and IP. If you fall into one of these buckets, you're going to have great in-house opportunities. The difference between one bucket and the next? The great opportunities that you'll have will be a reflection of the type of work done in that particular bucket. Of course, Corporate/L&E will have the most openings at companies of various sizes and industries and then tax/IP/tech trans. But, if you want to slide into really sophisticated and "sexy" companies, all of them are going to be able to get you there with the latter three having almost all of their opportunities exclusively in those types of companies.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Aug 15, 2020 10:20 pm

Sackboy wrote:
Sat Aug 15, 2020 8:28 pm
The best practices for going in-house (in no particular order): Corporate, Tech Transactions, L&E, Tax, and IP. If you fall into one of these buckets, you're going to have great in-house opportunities. The difference between one bucket and the next? The great opportunities that you'll have will be a reflection of the type of work done in that particular bucket. Of course, Corporate/L&E will have the most openings at companies of various sizes and industries and then tax/IP/tech trans. But, if you want to slide into really sophisticated and "sexy" companies, all of them are going to be able to get you there with the latter three having almost all of their opportunities exclusively in those types of companies.
when you say corporate, do you mean m&a or corporate in general (including cap market and funds)?

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Sackboy

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by Sackboy » Sat Aug 15, 2020 11:02 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sat Aug 15, 2020 10:20 pm

when you say corporate, do you mean m&a or corporate in general (including cap market and funds)?
I generally mean M&A/CM. Funds, Exec Comp, and many other corporate specialty practices have nowhere near the broad array of exit options into sophisticated companies.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by champloo » Sun Aug 16, 2020 12:55 am

Above is true but for the most part tech trans can get you in house sooner than corporate.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by SFSpartan » Sun Aug 16, 2020 1:22 am

If the goal is to do 2 years in biglaw and go in house at a tech company, you should go straight to tech trans. Tech trans will get you in house quickly. Good corporate in house jobs require you to stay in biglaw longer (and you'll likely need to have some IP knowledge anyway).

SamuelDanforth

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by SamuelDanforth » Mon Aug 17, 2020 8:07 pm

Thanks for these responses. I don't think I'm in the "go in-house as soon as possible" camp, and I think ideally I'd shoot for 3-5 years at a firm, depending on when opportunities opened up. I'm sure mileage will vary, but as a general matter, does general corporate experience at a Cooley, Fenwick, etc vs. tech trans work set you up for different-sized companies or different roles within larger companies? Will a 4th year general corp associate from Fenwick and a tech trans associate from Fenwick be in the running for similar roles at a FAANG-type company? Is a general corporate associate at Gunderson in a different position from a tech trans associate at Gunderson when it comes to moving in-house at an early-stage client?

I guess I just don't have a good sense of how different the exit options are for general corporate vs. tech trans associate if you're at a tech-focused firm already.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by Mickeym19 » Mon Aug 17, 2020 9:42 pm

Sackboy wrote:
Sat Aug 15, 2020 8:28 pm
The best practices for going in-house (in no particular order): Corporate, Tech Transactions, L&E, Tax, and IP. If you fall into one of these buckets, you're going to have great in-house opportunities. The difference between one bucket and the next? The great opportunities that you'll have will be a reflection of the type of work done in that particular bucket. Of course, Corporate/L&E will have the most openings at companies of various sizes and industries and then tax/IP/tech trans. But, if you want to slide into really sophisticated and "sexy" companies, all of them are going to be able to get you there with the latter three having almost all of their opportunities exclusively in those types of companies.
When you say IP, do you also mean IP lit or is more for prosecution? I know in-house options tend to be more for IP prosecution than litigation, but was wondering if IP lit folks also had a good chance going in-house.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Aug 17, 2020 11:58 pm

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 19, 2020 6:35 pm

SamuelDanforth wrote:
Mon Aug 17, 2020 8:07 pm
Thanks for these responses. I don't think I'm in the "go in-house as soon as possible" camp, and I think ideally I'd shoot for 3-5 years at a firm, depending on when opportunities opened up. I'm sure mileage will vary, but as a general matter, does general corporate experience at a Cooley, Fenwick, etc vs. tech trans work set you up for different-sized companies or different roles within larger companies? Will a 4th year general corp associate from Fenwick and a tech trans associate from Fenwick be in the running for similar roles at a FAANG-type company? Is a general corporate associate at Gunderson in a different position from a tech trans associate at Gunderson when it comes to moving in-house at an early-stage client?

I guess I just don't have a good sense of how different the exit options are for general corporate vs. tech trans associate if you're at a tech-focused firm already.
Bump, just in case anyone has any insights.

Edit: didn't mean to post anonymously.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by oblig.lawl.ref » Tue Aug 25, 2020 12:35 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Aug 19, 2020 6:35 pm
SamuelDanforth wrote:
Mon Aug 17, 2020 8:07 pm
Thanks for these responses. I don't think I'm in the "go in-house as soon as possible" camp, and I think ideally I'd shoot for 3-5 years at a firm, depending on when opportunities opened up. I'm sure mileage will vary, but as a general matter, does general corporate experience at a Cooley, Fenwick, etc vs. tech trans work set you up for different-sized companies or different roles within larger companies? Will a 4th year general corp associate from Fenwick and a tech trans associate from Fenwick be in the running for similar roles at a FAANG-type company? Is a general corporate associate at Gunderson in a different position from a tech trans associate at Gunderson when it comes to moving in-house at an early-stage client?

I guess I just don't have a good sense of how different the exit options are for general corporate vs. tech trans associate if you're at a tech-focused firm already.
Bump, just in case anyone has any insights.

Edit: didn't mean to post anonymously.

I think there are probably at least 2x if not 3x or 4x as many jobs for a Cooley/Fenwick/Gunderson tech trans associate as there are for a corporate associate at the same firm. 2-3 years at those firms doing tech trans and you can go in house. Will take more like 3-5 years at least of good (i.e. grinding) corporate experience to go in-house, generally. Large enterprise software companies require as many as dozens of commercial lawyers to every 2-3 corporate lawyers.

My personal view is that the insurance of having an early exit option is worth it. Most do not really know whether they can excel in a corporate practice and last for 5 years before doing it. I saw some of the biggest class strivers burn out (or often flame out) before the slackers and there seemed to be little to predict who would last at these firms. Sure, you can become a commercial lawyer from a corporate practice but it's an uphill battle.

That being said, I think if you can thrive 5+ years at those SV firms in corporate and get some good experience and a good reputation, the in-house opportunities are better and have a much faster track to AGC/GC, etc. The fact that enterprise software companies may have 30 commercial lawyers and two corporate lawyers effects the value of your skills once you get your foot in the door, IMO.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by RedGiant » Tue Aug 25, 2020 9:04 pm

I think the most important thing to ask yourself is "what interests me?" Tech trans is transactional work, strong focus on drafting, and you'll learn a lot about licensing and commercial matters. You will sometimes have straight "tech trans" deals which are not offshoots of corporate work. Often, you will be considered a specialist, with a narrower practice, fed work from the corporate group (this can vary by firm and each partner's practice).

Corporate in SV is lifecycle representation (unless you get stuck in a specific group like fund formation or debt capital markets, which are both, relatively speaking, rare). You will learn how to represent a company from cradle to exit, and you will work a wide variety of things, from easy-peasy incorporations, venture financings, capital markets work (IPOs, follow-ons) and likely some limited public company work, depending on which group you're in at which firm. You will learn the ins-and-outs of corporate governance, lots of project management, and working with executives and boards.

Which sounds more interesting to you? What do you want to do in-house?

I'm one of the few corporate folks at a large enterprise software company. My commercial colleagues negotiate agreements and train our sales/partnership force. They help counsel our product team, they maintain our IP portfolio (with a lot of help from outside counsel). Our commercial team does not work with the C-suite (except for our Chief Legal Officer). Their crazy time at work is very quarter-end driven, although they are busy throughout the quarter too.

I do lots of things--employment, corpgov, venture financings, privacy, lots of working on random projects for the CLO (real estate, diversity & inclusion, legal ops, equity administration), compliance, researching best practices for any number of things, prepping for and executing transactions. I work with the C-suite a lot. I am a true generalist, with a corporate bent. Right now, we are private, but I also have a public company background and will help with our IPO and '34 Act reporting. I work crazy hours at times, but I have my weekends and nights mostly free. My work is cyclical-crazy around board meetings.

You may benefit from reading a little bit of the Q&A on the Lawyer Whisperer blog--she does a good job of delineating day-in-the-life of different tech jobs and when you should move in-house. If you're in SV, there is a robust pipeline of in-house jobs, regardless of your level. FWIW, you can also go in-house after just a few years in corporate, but you will be brought in more junior, and may not move up as fast as someone who stays in-house until they are a midlevel or senior associate.

Eye on the prize--you will work a lot, so you should be interested in the work you do--pick which is more interesting to you--you will be able to go in-house from any of the Valley giants fairly easily.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Aug 25, 2020 9:19 pm

I do some tech transactions and have to say, god it's boring. My main focus is patent lit, which I find very exciting, to the extent that legal work can be considered exciting.

That being said, I think if it's something that interests you, it would probably be slightly better in terms of going in-house to do tech trans, especially in the Bay Area. For whatever my opinion is worth, I think it would be a bit tougher to make partner as a tech trans lawyer, just because you would likely be considered a specialist and brought onto deals to do the IP related work. It would probably be easier to get your own clients if youre a general M&A lawyer. But again, I'm just an associate, so take that for what it's worth.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 26, 2020 10:31 pm

Some good info in this thread.

I’m curious about this as well. I’m a mid level corporate associate. I see a lot of openings in my market for commercial attorney with a preference for SAAS/IP experience. Requested experience ranges start as low as 1-2 years all the way up to 8+ years.

Seems like some of these positions are willing to accept corporate experience and don’t necessarily need someone with a practice focused on just IP transactions. But my hesitation with these types of openings after doing a couple initial interviews is that a lot of them appear more like “satellite” in-house offices with a group of commercial attorneys focused on a supporting a particular sales/product line of the business. I think the job would be interesting in the short term but it’s not clear to me what the long-term potential of this kind of role would be.

My experience would definitely fit better with a more general corporate role or a business development group that is active with M&A. But even though I am in a relatively large market with a decent number of headquartered F500 companies, these kinds of gigs appear rare and usually ask for 5+ years of experience with a good number looking for partner-level experience. But I like the idea of going in house a bit sooner than that.

Should I be taking a more serious look at these commercial contract roles? Anyone have insight on the long-term career trajectory from this kind of in-house legal department? From a job description or maybe an initial interview, are there signals that suggest something is a good opportunity (or something to avoid)?

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Sep 01, 2020 7:21 am

Anon because wil be soon working in a tech/outsourcing role at a v50, and don't want to be outed.

There seems to be a consesus in this thread that you can exit pretty early when you work in tech, but are there any tangible benefits (higher in house position, salary, etc) to staying longer at a firm vs. exiting earlier (i.e. exiting at year 5 vs. year 2)?

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by The Lsat Airbender » Tue Sep 01, 2020 10:21 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Sep 01, 2020 7:21 am
Anon because wil be soon working in a tech/outsourcing role at a v50, and don't want to be outed.

There seems to be a consesus in this thread that you can exit pretty early when you work in tech, but are there any tangible benefits (higher in house position, salary, etc) to staying longer at a firm vs. exiting earlier (i.e. exiting at year 5 vs. year 2)?
Staying in a firm longer is generally accretive to your net worth (that Cravath midlevel/senior salary is awesome, although equity packages at a unicorn tech firm could theoretically outpace) and generally will get you to a higher job title (promotions are annual in biglaw but every-so-often in most corporate legal depts). On both accounts there are diminishing returns of course, and the toll on your health/happiness is a huge countervailing consideration, but the sweet spot is probably around year 4/5.

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by RedGiant » Fri Sep 11, 2020 9:45 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Sep 01, 2020 7:21 am
Anon because wil be soon working in a tech/outsourcing role at a v50, and don't want to be outed.

There seems to be a consesus in this thread that you can exit pretty early when you work in tech, but are there any tangible benefits (higher in house position, salary, etc) to staying longer at a firm vs. exiting earlier (i.e. exiting at year 5 vs. year 2)?
The main difference, besides banking three more years of biglaw salary, is that unless you are at a very large legal department in-house, there isn't a ton of mobility upward in-house. So if you come in as a "junior-midlevel" you don't get a lockstep salary increase annually. Your skillset will certainly grow and develop but you're not "up there" really. Commensurate with the lower entry salary is the fact that your in-house incentive comp (equity of some sort--options or RSUs or whatnot) will be significantly lower for a "Corporate Counsel" versus a higher/more senior lawyer like an AGC or DGC. The Lawyer Whisperer blog has good guidance on leveling and comp.

Another big difference, particularly on the corporate side, is that it takes you longer to get up to speed and have judgment as a lawyer when you're just doing junior level work. Many attorneys need midlevel and up work to become "seasoned" enough to be independent individual contributors in-house--they simply are not ready at Year 2 to really add value without a fair bit of supervision, and that quantity of supervision means they are not senior, and therefore, not paid as a senior.

Hope this helps.

SamuelDanforth

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Re: Tech Trans vs. General Corporate

Post by SamuelDanforth » Sat Sep 12, 2020 2:28 pm

This thread has really been the best of TLS, so thank you for the insights. I think interest-wise I'm more inclined towards a general corporate practice at a tech-focused firm, rather than tech trans, but I'm trying to weigh that against its impact on my in-house options over the next 3-5 years. So this thread has been a source of great advice on that front. Thank you all.

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