Dec 12 2005

Term Sheets: Contentious Issues and Lawyers

For my 40th birthday, I got a couple of cool t-shirts with photos of me substituted for Jack Bauer on 24.  The only thing disconcerting was the image of me holding a handgun.  I was pondering how ripped I looked (on Jack’s torso) when two questions on term sheets came in from someone at Ernst & Young.  Being the excellent delegator that I am (much better than Jack, if you know what I mean), I forwarded the questions on to Jason who promptly answered them.  They are as follows:

1. What would you deem the most hotly contested points of the term sheet? The most hotly negotiated term (after price) is the liquidation preference. In a Series A deal, it is between the company and the investor. While it’s often an intense negotiation, it’s straightforward because there are only two interests to consider (the founders and the Series A investors). In later stage, the negotiations become even more interesting. Take a situation where you have a Series D deal with each Series (A, B, and C) having different prices. By definition each of the different Series investors will have different payouts on their previously purchased stock and the Series D investors will be negotiating with several sets of interested parties (the founders, the Series A investors, the Series B investors that are not in the Series A, and the Series C investors that are not in the Series A / B).  Of course, the notion of participating preferred plays into this negotiation also.

2. In your view, how has the role of legal counsel changed over time during the deal process (in the past 10 years or so)? Legal counsel is relied on more heavily these days to be a business arbiter, rather than a “take no prisoner negotiator” who must win every last deal point. These deals aren’t rocket science and any good lawyer knows that.  As a result, legal counsel (at least good legal counsel) is now much more of a deal maker than hard ass negotiator.