Transitioning from M&A Law (midlevel associate) into Private Equity?

Hey all,

I'm currently a midlevel (3-5 years) M&A associate at a large law firm in a regional market (think SF, Houston, Chicago etc). I'm not at one of the well known NY firms (e.g. Cravath, Simpson Thacher etc.) but my firm is a top player in my particular market. I work primarily in corporate M&A, although I have had a bit of PE work earlier in my career. As such, I don't have too many high level PE contacts. I'm interested in breaking into either a legal or investing role (although I'd prefer the latter).

I went to a top law school (e.g. Yale/Harvard/Stanford) and had three years of IBD experience at a top tier BB (GS/MS/JPM) prior to that. I didn't go through PE recruiting as an analyst because I was set on law school before hand. I enjoy my work as a lawyer (and being debt free right after law school was nice), but I've become more an more interested in getting back into finance and in private equity in general.

I know breaking into PE from law is a long shot for anybody, but does my finance background help at all? Anyone have any advice on who to network with, what kind of roles I might be suited for and whether it's a good idea to use a headhunter? I appreciate any help.

Comments (10)

Mar 19, 2014 - 4:52pm

Hi Lawberns,

I used to be a commercial litigator and made the switch to PE. I got in by working as in house counsel for my friend's newly launched fund. I helped him out on deal work like LOIs at first, and eventually on internal investment memos where I had to learn modeling. After about 6 months, they said I need to decide if I want stay on the legal track or go on the PE associate track, and I chose the latter.

If you already know how to build models and dcf valuations, you are one step ahead of where I was. If you have a good personality and people like being around you, hanging out with you, that will help a lot too.

Most importantly though, what are your reasons for wanting to switch? I am glad I did and love it, but I am sure you recall from your banking days that much of the work but not all is a lot less intellectually stimulating than law. With that said, the higher level more strategic work is heaven. I like to think of it as playing poker and chess at the same time.

Mar 31, 2014 - 2:08pm

I know a couple of former lawyers that transitioned to PE, but they both moved over at a senior level and the PE firms in question were long standing clients. I'm sure it's possible as an associate, but it will be much more difficult and networking will be paramount.

Apr 2, 2014 - 4:06pm

Looking at it from a fund's point of view, if you are willing to take an associate position, I think your background should be an advantage. I mean, they're basically getting +6 years of relevant experience for free (compared to if they gave you a job after your analyst stint). It should be an easy sell for you. However, you probably aren't going to find any precedent, so my advice is to just jump in to it and start reaching out to people at places you'd like to work and see where it takes you.

Apr 2, 2014 - 4:07pm

Getting into PE after MBA coming from M&A Law Background (Originally Posted: 03/17/2016)


I am a Brazilian M&A lawyer and next year I will be applying for my MBA. After my MBA, I would like to get into PE and my question really is: what are my chances in getting into PE.

Just a little bit of background, I have 2 year experience in M&A law, have already two business post-grads here in Brazil (really apply the knowledge obtained from them). Here in Brazil, things work a little differently than in the US. Instead of having to go to undergrad and then to law school, here is straight to law school. Therefore, I have some professional experience even though I am only 25.

My main concern is the lack of previous experience in PE. I work with a little of finance and (naturally) a lot with deal structuring, analysis and post deal structuring.

I am thinking that getting my MBA will help me get into PE and maybe get some experience during summer internships.

Any thoughts?

Thank you.,

Apr 2, 2014 - 4:09pm

what a meaningless response. this isn't an 8 Mile music video, this is reality. expectations need to be nuanced more than "you can do anything you set your mind to bro."

Apr 2, 2014 - 4:10pm

If you want to do PE in brazil - possible, i don't know how the market works there

If you want to do PE in the US, it's just not going to happen. let's assume you have a greencard/American citizenship (because otherwise it would be 10x harder), it would still be a .0001% chance.

Sorry, this is just the reality of the market. I am giving it to you from someone in PE who hires people and understands the recruiting market very well.

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