Jul 24 2008 by Jason

Should I Pay My Lawyer A Success Fee For Venture Capital Intros?

Q: My lawyer is asking for a "success fee" for a referral to a potential investor in my business. Since he’ll be doing the legal work, he’s offered to charge only 3% on the amount funded (solely from this one contact) as opposed to a 5% that a typical investment banker would charge (even though he’s not an investment banker himself).

As this is the first venture I’m actually raising capital for, I am simply unfamiliar with this practice in the legal world. Is this a common industry-wide practice? Should I be wary of this offer? Although I don’t feel like he is trying to take advantage of me in any way, it does feel a bit like he’s trying to double-dip.

A: (Jason)  Without sounding too unprofessional, I want to vomit.  This is egregious behavior by your lawyer and you should not accept paying ANYTHING to him for introducing you to potential investors.

First of all, it’s part of a lawyer’s job to introduce you to any investor contacts he may have.  If you get funded, he gets paid and gets to bill you throughout the lifetime of your company.  If you don’t think he is already making enough money, see my post on start-up lawyer compensation from my personal blog. 

Second, while investment banks may offer you a deal at 5% (and in my experience this can be negotiated down), individuals who find money for you (normally called "Finders") normally charge in the 1-2% range, so his quote is at least 50% too high.

Lastly, venture capitalists prefer to invest in deals without finders.  We don’t like funding a company that has to pay someone part of the deal proceeds.  We want our money to be used to operate and grow the company.  You will see many VC term sheets that have provisions that specifically call out the absence of finders fees. 

So yes, your lawyer is double dipping.  And that is stating it very nicely.