I Want to Leave Law for Private Equity / Venture Capital

I’m a first-year corporate associate at a large San Francisco firm, and I’m interested in leaving the law and getting into private equity or venture capital.  It seems like a pretty easy job with a huge upside. 

I know a few people in that business, and they don’t seem super smart (or super cool).  So, I have to believe that breaking in is very possible.  Any tips on how to land a job in that arena? 

I went to a solid undergrad and was in the top 20% of my class at USC Law School, so it’s not like I’m some T3 douchebag or anything.  Thanks for your help!

You’re right about one thing, and one thing only: Private equity and venture capital firms, when successful, make lots of money.  Unfortunately, you’re wrong about everything else. 

First, working at a PE or VC firm ain’t easy.  In fact, it’s a lot harder than working at a corporate law firm.  These guys work just as hard, if not harder, than lawyers.  The only difference is: They get to do the fun stuff, and you get to do the crappy stuff.  They make the deals; you paper them. 

Don’t kid yourself.  It’s not easy to find profitable companies to invest in, nor is it simple to successfully structure and negotiate these transactions.  These jobs might be more interesting and glamorous, but they’re certainly not easy.  If they were, everyone would do it.

Second, your statement that your friends in this field don’t seem that smart (or cool) sounds sort of idiotic to me.  What does that even mean?  Unlike you, my friends in this business are incredibly smart.  In fact, they’re some of the smartest people I know. 

One of my private equity friends went to Princeton and Harvard Law School.  Another went to Stanford and Harvard Business School.  My VC friend went to MIT and Stanford Business School.  On top of being smart, they’re also relentless and viciously competitive.

Okay, I’m done venting.  And lecturing.  Now for my five tips:

1.  DEVELOP AN INDUSTRY EXPERTISE

If you’re an engineer or have a science background, that would help.  If not, pick a growth industry you find interesting and jump in with both feet.  Go to conferences, read trade publications, talk to lawyers at your firm specializing in that field. 

2.  DEVELOP SOME FINANCIAL EXPERTISE

Being a lawyer doesn’t train you to be an investor.  Lawyers deal with words; investors deal with numbers.  It’s a different skill set and mind set.  Take accounting classes, read finance books, build financial models just for fun.  (No, I’m not kidding.) If you don’t understand finance and accounting, you have no shot.  Even if you’re lucky enough get a job, you’ll never last. 

3.  NETWORK LIKE HELL WITH PEOPLE IN PE AND VC FIRMS

It takes time and energy, but it’s critical.

4.  FIND A FIRM PARTNER THAT DOES PE/VC TRANSACTIONS—AND KISS HIS ASS

The best way to get credible exposure is to work with these guys on a live deal.

5.  STOP BEING A DOUCHEBAG

The tone of your question is really annoying, so I have to assume you’re annoying in real life.  And clueless.  In the elite PE/VC world, graduating from a top law school means nothing—let alone top 20% from USC. 

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Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

6 Comments

  1. Guano Dubango

    January 12, 2010 at 3:21 am

    I would venture into a new field only if I could be assured of getting a job.  I have a job now, and make OK money; far better than I would in my home country.  There is no private venture capital in Ghana.  If you have money, you are targeted, unless your wealth is in cattle.  My Aunt Ooona owns a ranch with over 300 head of cattle, which she wants me to return and manage when she gets old.  That is why I need to find a bride now, who is 1) a lawyer (to manage the legal aspects); 2) fertile (to bear me children) 3) interested in marriage and return to Ghana.  So this is a “help wanted” ad for a suitable female.  Also, she must be beautiful, as I have a reputation to uphold.

  2. anon

    January 12, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Man, this Guano Dubango schtick is really getting old.  It’s also not funny in the least.  It wasn’t the first time and its not now. 
    But I digress.  This guy sounds like a tool.  If you have no background in finance whatsoever, you will have no chance at doing that kind of work.  Stick to what you know.  Do the transaction-side, suck up enough to the clients, and maybe you can make a switch someday after getting a masters in finance or an MBA or something.

  3. BL1Y

    January 12, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I agree with 6:33.  Can we please get a break from Alma and Guano?  It’s almost like someone wrote program that just strings together the same words in a slightly different order, then adds in a half dozen random words from that day’s post.  I know plenty of people find me annoying or stupid, but Jesus, I try to find new ways to fall short of their standards.

  4. Annon

    January 12, 2010 at 11:44 am

    It does have huge upside. Thinkin it sounds pretty good 2.

  5. BL1Y

    January 12, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Finance only has a huge upside if you’re lucky.  You look only at the people who make it and forget the endless graveyard of people with the exact same credentials as you.  Sure the potential payout is bigger, but there’s also a huge risk of making squat.  Even with layoffs, law is probably still more stable.

  6. San Francisco

    April 24, 2010 at 7:49 am

    I work in VC.  This guy is clueless.  VC is so very difficult to get into . Especially now sine the good ‘ole days of VC are LONG gone.  These guys work like animals, are highly educated at ivy league schools, and typically, to make partner, you have to bring your own $$ into the game to play with the big boys.  Associates don’t have to bring their own money in.  VC is high, high stakes, and extremely difficult to get into, especially in today’s environment.

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