Legal expenses are a meaningful part of most startups’ spending. We analyzed over $18 million dollars worth of legal spend by over 140 Seed, Series A, and Series B US startups to identify the top 5 startup law firms in the United States. The startups in this study have raised over $850 million in combined funding, and are backed by leading venture capital and seed investors. Download the Report

Top 5 Startup Law Firms

Rank Firm Revenue Market Share About the Law firms
1 Fenwick & West 7.2 % Consistently recognized as one of the top technology law firms, Fenwick & West has offices in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Shanghai.
2 Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati 7.0 % Wilson Sonsini is a nationally recognized law firm that provides services to technology and life sciences companies, and the venture and private equity firms that fund them.
3 Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian 5.2 % Headquartered in Silicon Valley, Gunderson represents over 2,500 technology and life science companies, and over 450 venture capital firms.
4 Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe 4.7 % With 25+ offices in Asia, Europe and North America, Orrick provides technology companies with their legal advice for fundraising, M&A, IP litigation, employment, and more.
5 Perkins Coie 4.5 % Located in Seattle and with a total of 19 offices across the United States and Asia, Perkins Coie represents clients across a wide range of industries and stages of growth— from startups to FORTUNE 50 corporations.

This analysis was based on the total dollars spent on legal fees by the 140+ startups in our analysis. Over 7% of every dollar spent on legal services by these companies went to Fenwick. Fenwick, Wilson Sonsini, Gunderson, Orrick, and Perkins Coie likely make any “top” startup law firm list, but these five are at the top based on the revenue they collected. Together, these top 5 law firms captured approximately 45% of every dollar that their clients spent on legal fees.

When contacted by Kruze Consulting, Fenwick partner Kristine Di Bacco said, “We are proud of the work we do with early-stage startups, from financing to IP to acquisition advice. Startup founders turn to us because they know we can support them from their first financing round to their IPO and beyond.”

Top 5 Startup Law Firms by Clients

It’s not just about the money spent on legal services - just as importantly, which law firms are startups most likely to turn to for advice? Even though the top startup law firms have expertise in multiple legal specialties, the startups in our sample often worked with more than one provider, choosing firms with deep expertise in areas like immigration, employment law, IP, or another discipline as needed.

Interestingly, almost a quarter of the startups in our sample worked with more than one top tier law firm.

RANK FIRM CLIENT MARKET SHARE
1 Fenwick & West 15 %
2 Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian 15 %
3 Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe 13 %
4 Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati 11 %
5 Goodwin Procter 11 %

“Goodwin attorney’s love helping start-up clients navigate the legal aspects of their endeavor so that they can focus on innovation. We are thrilled to be on Kruze’s Top 5 Start-Up Law Firm list! Partnering with clients and seeing their evolution from start-up through their entire company lifecycle is one of the best parts of our job.” - Bill Growney, Goodwin Procter Partner

These startups spent tens of thousands on legal fees per year. Across the board, there is a wide-ranging amount of money spent by startups on legal costs. This typically varies by industry, IP needs, funding round, and other Company-specific HR issues. The average startup in our study spends about $77 thousand dollars per year, and the median spend is about $39 thousand dollars per company. Note that we attempted to exclude companies involved in active litigation from our analysis.

$77,150 average legal spend per startup
$38,990 median legal spend per startup

When companies raise additional funding, it is typical to see a large outlay of money to legal firms to compensate for due diligence and corporate advisory during the fundraising process. For a Seed round, the legal costs in our analysis are typically between $5,000 to $10,000. For Series A rounds, legal costs are typically between $50,000 to $65,000 - although there are several instances of startups’ paying north of $100,000 in legal fees for a fundraise.  Often times at the Seed round, law firms will defer payment until the total funding exceeds a pre-determined, significant threshold.

$5,000 to $10,000 Seed Round Legal Costs
$50,000 to $65,000 Series A Legal Costs
 

Not surprisingly, startups in different industries spent very different amounts on outside legal costs. The Healthcare industry appears to have the highest legal bills, although there is high variance in spend in our sample. This is likely because Healthcare startups spend can ramp up or down depending on FDA or HIPPA compliance/regulatory needs.

Companies in the Hardware space are also known to spend a significant amount on legal costs, namely to research and file patents. Spending in the other main industries tends to be a little more consistent but does vary based on each business’ unique circumstances and needs.  

What is a “normal” spend on legal costs for a funded startup? Some startups, when not fundraising, manage to spend almost nothing on legal costs in a given year. Others spend much more than $100,000. Over half of the companies in our sample spent less than $40,000 a year, so a founder trying to estimate the spend a year when they are not actively fundraising, engaging in litigation, doing complex employment law work and not filing lots of IP could safely estimate that amount.

While Kruze Consulting’s does not currently have enough data to calculate any legal spending trends for 2019, we expect to see a continued healthy spend. This will be driven by a strong venture capital fundraising market and continued need for funded startups to get the legal advice they need to grow their businesses.

When asked for an opinion on what 2019 will bring, Augie Rakow, Chairman of Atrium, a tech-enabled legal platform and law firm, whose clients’ have raised over $500 million in new capital, said, “In 2019, we expect to see startups demanding better support from law firms, including more transparent pricing, more professionalized account management, and greater access to tools and products that make legal procurement easy, fast and frictionless.”

 

Note: when possible, our analysis excludes litigation costs. Companies in our sample set involved in active litigation easily spent over a million dollars a year on legal fees, and often with specialized law firms. We excluded these specialized law firms from our analysis to show what a typical “startup” would spend and which top firms they would choose to work within the normal course of operations.

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ABOUT KRUZE CONSULTING

Kruze Consulting was founded in 2012 by Vanessa Kruze, a big four alum, startup controller and CPA. Kruze provides Startup CFO Consulting to over 175+ startups in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, and other major startup hubs. Kruze’s clients have raised over $500 million in venture capital in the past 12 months, and are market leading Saas, software, eCommerce, eHealth and FinTech startups. The firm handles all things Accounting, Tax, Finance, & HR: interim CFO Consulting, financial modeling, annual taxes, venture debt consulting, 409A reporting, bookkeeping, AR/AP, and Seed/Series A/B Fundraising Preparation. Visit www.kruzeconsulting.com to learn more.

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The 2018 Startup CEO Salary Report was created by VP of FP&A Healy Jones and Onboarding Manager Alex Janeck. Design by Lucila Romero.