Ultra Vires


Law Students Doing Cool Things: Kirsten Roggeveen on Venture Capital Law

On finding a passion for advising emerging high-growth companies

Kirsten Roggeveen is a 4L (JD/MBA) student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. In an interview with Ultra Vires, Roggeveen shared her journey to pursuing a career in advising start-up companies and venture capital funds, from interning at O’Leary Ventures to working with the emerging companies practice group at Cooley LLP in New York. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Credit: Kirsten Roggeveen

Ultra Vires (UV): How did you first get acquainted with this area of law? 

Kirsten Roggeveen (KR): My undergraduate degree was in business, and I had an early exposure to innovation and entrepreneurship through it. The start-up realm is such a fascinating and exciting space that’s always evolving. I always thought in the back of my head [that] it was an area I would like to be involved in at some point in my life, but I didn’t think that would end up coming to fruition during law school.

I was introduced to venture capital and emerging companies’ law when I started researching New York firms during my 1L summer. It quickly became clear that there were greater opportunities in the United States because of the sheer number of law firms, which allows them to offer a greater variety of focus areas. I discovered a branch of corporate law firms down there that specialize in “ECVC” (emerging companies and venture capital work). [This area] presented the perfect opportunity to intertwine my interest in business with my practice of law.

UV: What attracts you the most to this area of law?

KR:  Honestly, so many things, but I would say there are three main reasons.

First, I knew I would be much more excited about and genuinely invested in my work if I was working with a bunch of super cool, innovative companies, and getting to learn about their unique businesses along the way. Also, because start-ups are typically smaller [companies] in their earlier stages of growth, the teams you work with are often very lean, staffed with 2-4 lawyers; you truly get to be hands-on very early on and deal directly with clients and partners, instead of feeling like a cog in a machine. In line with this, it also means that you often stay with the same clients for the entirety of their life cycle. You get to know these companies and their founders well and help them through a variety of stages and issues, as opposed to doing ad hoc assignments for always-varying companies at typical corporate law firms.  

Second, the culture at law firms in this area mimics that of the start-ups we work with; the work-life balance is generally better than a traditional corporate practice group and people are a lot more laid back. Even partners wear sneakers and jeans to the office most days (at least at my firm, but it’s pretty much the standard at big tech and venture capital law firms in the States). 

Lastly, the lateral opportunities are top-notch. You get exposed to so many start-ups in so many industries, as well as venture capital funds through your work, that it makes it super easy to move to a client in the future. And, no, you don’t need a business background or MBA to do this.

UV: How is advising emerging high growth companies and their founders unique? 

KR: It’s unique in part because of the relationships you’re able to build, even as a very junior lawyer. Because you’re working so closely and directly with the client from the start, you get to know them very well. Additionally, as start-ups typically don’t have their own in-house legal team or a large roster of employees, they truly treat their lawyers as trusted confidants and advisors and will even ask you for business and strategy-related advice.

Another big reason is how dynamic the work is. Start-ups are always facing new legal challenges and hurdles as they incorporate, grow, hire employees, raise rounds of funding, go public, and more. As a result, you get exposure to a bunch of different areas of law and really get to see the ins-and-outs of starting and growing a business. For example, one day you might help them create their shareholders agreement or file their incorporation papers, and the next you might attend their Board meetings or prepare materials for [their] investors. A frequent task is drafting and preparing all the relevant venture financing documents that are required every time a start-up raises a new series of money (such as the term sheet and stock purchase agreements). This would also involve ancillary tasks like managing Cap Tables or coordinating with the investors and funds to get everyone’s sign off on their purchase of shares.

UV: Tell me about your experience interning with O’Leary Ventures

KR: O’Leary Ventures was a great experience, especially for people who might want to work for a venture capital fund down the road and want to get some experience and exposure in the space. I now have a deeper understanding of what investors look for in companies and what types of factors can be “deal-breakers” for start-ups.

The internship was an 80 percent business work and 20 percent legal work split; having a business background and education would likely be required for this [position]. On the legal side, it mainly involved drafting certain documents, such as term sheets and letter agreements. There was some intellectual property-related work (reading through patents and conducting patent searches). On the business side, I was entirely responsible for conducting the due diligence process, which involved everything from building financial models, to doing market research, to sometimes even testing [the start-ups’] products. At the end, it was my job to put together a comprehensive deal report summarizing all key aspects of the investment, and ultimately recommend (with approval from my boss of course), whether we should proceed with the investment, pull out, or adjust the financing terms to better reflect the value of the company or any unique risks we came across. 

UV: Tell me about your experiences with the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Externship 

KR: This year, I have been working with a start-up from the University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Sciences and Engineering Hatchery for my externship. [The externship] gives you the opportunity to kind of blur the line between business and law—you can help the start-ups with certain business-related tasks, as well as legal tasks, if you’re comfortable with it. For example, some of the more legal tasks I have helped my company with have included researching labelling restrictions and regulations for their packaging, helping draft patent claims, and conducting trademark searches. I have also helped them on the business side by conducting market research to aid in narrowing down their target market, and even coming up with strategic business initiatives and partnerships for them to explore.

UV: What advice do you have for law students interested in advising emerging high growth companies in the future?

KR: My biggest piece of advice would be to use your time in law school or [during] your summers to try and get some sort of related experience in this space. I would recommend the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Externship for this. 

Even if it’s not through an actual job or externship at a start-up or venture capital firm, you can still participate in extracurriculars, such as joining the Venture Capital Law Society at the law school. From my experience, talking to lawyers in the space and after having gone through the interview process with multiple emerging companies/venture capital law firms in the States, they really look for people who are genuinely interested in the area, so anything you can do to show that will help. And for those who might not have any relevant experience or knowledge, I would suggest reading the book “Venture Deals” by Brad Feld; it’s a good introduction to venture capital work, and even though it’s more from the business perspective, it will give anyone starting off a good basis and understanding of the relevant concepts and terms so that you can show you understand what [this work] entails. My law firm actually sends it to all of their associates to read, so it is still very beneficial even from a legal standpoint.  

Editor’s Note: Kirsten Roggeveen will be working at Cooley LLP in New York City after graduation this June.

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