For more than four decades, Fenwick & West LLP has helped some of the world’s most recognized companies become, and remain, market leaders. From emerging enterprises to large public corporations, our clients are leaders in the technology, life sciences and cleantech sectors and are fundamentally changing the world through rapid innovation.  MORE >

Fenwick & West was founded in 1972 in the heart of Silicon Valley—before “Silicon Valley” existed—by four visionary lawyers who left a top-tier New York law firm to pursue their shared belief that technology would revolutionize the business world and to pioneer the legal work for those technological innovations. In order to be most effective, they decided they needed to move to a location close to primary research and technology development. These four attorneys opened their first office in downtown Palo Alto, and Fenwick became one of the first technology law firms in the world.  MORE >

From our founding in 1972, Fenwick has been committed to promoting diversity and inclusion both within our firm and throughout the legal profession. For almost four decades, the firm has actively promoted an open and inclusive work environment and committed significant resources towards improving our diversity efforts at every level.  MORE >

FLEX by Fenwick is the only service created by an AmLaw 100 firm that provides flexible and cost-effective solutions for interim in-house legal needs to high-growth companies.  MORE >

Fenwick & West handles significant cross-border legal and business issues for a wide range of technology and life sciences who operate internationally..  MORE >

At Fenwick, we are proud of our commitment to the community and to our culture of making a difference in the lives of individuals and organizations in the communities where we live and work. We recognize that providing legal services is not only an essential part of our professional responsibility, but also an excellent opportunity for our attorneys to gain valuable practical experience, learn new areas of the law and contribute to the community.  MORE >

Year after year, Fenwick & West is honored for excellence in the legal profession. Many of our attorneys are recognized as leaders in their respective fields, and our Corporate, Tax, Litigation and Intellectual Property Practice Groups consistently receive top national and international rankings, including:

  • Named Technology Group of the Year by Law360
  • Ranked #1 in the Americas for number of technology deals in 2015 by Mergermarket
  • Nearly 20 percent of Fenwick partners are ranked by Chambers
  • Consistently ranked among the top 10 law firms in the U.S. for diversity
  • Recognized as having top mentoring and pro bono programs by Euromoney


We take sustainability very seriously at Fenwick. Like many of our clients, we are adopting policies that reduce consumption and waste, and improve efficiency. By using technologies developed by a number of our cleantech clients, we are at the forefront of implementing sustainable policies and practices that minimize environmental impact. In fact, Fenwick has earned recognition in several areas as one of the top US law firms for implementing sustainable business practices.  MORE >

At Fenwick, we have a passion for excellence and innovation that mirrors our client base. Our firm is making revolutionary changes to the practice of law through substantial investments in proprietary technology tools and processes—allowing us to deliver best-in-class legal services more effectively.   MORE >

Mountain View Office
Silicon Valley Center
801 California Street
Mountain View, CA 94041

San Francisco Office
555 California Street
12th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

Seattle Office
1191 Second Avenue
10th Floor
Seattle, WA 98101

New York Office
1211 Avenue of the Americas
32nd Floor
New York, NY 10036

Shanghai Office
Unit 908, 9/F, Kerry Parkside Office
No. 1155 Fang Dian Road
Pudong New Area, Shanghai 201204
P.R. China
+86 21 8017 1200

Another Look at U.S. Federal Income Tax Treatment of Contingent Earnout Payments

​The sale of a company in an M&A transaction often involves consideration to the selling shareholders that is deferred and contingent on subsequent events in the life of the company, such as the post-acquisition performance of the business (an “earnout”). Earnouts are typically used where a buyer and seller disagree on the value of the target company or its business as of the date of the transaction. Through the use of earnout payments, buyer and seller can defer this valuation decision to a later point in time, and link it to the performance of the business or the target company’s product sales. Such valuation difference can be especially prominent for early-stage companies, with unproven products or technologies, or other companies for which historical results may be unreliable indicators of future value.

A typical earnout provision in an M&A agreement could provide, for example that, if the target company’s EBITDA percentage for the measurement period is greater than a certain percentage (e.g., 15%) the selling shareholders will be entitled to receive an additional consideration for their stock. The additional consideration amount could be determined by multiplying, the target company’s revenues for the measurement period by a certain percentage (e.g., 0.025).

Often, the earnout payments made by the buyer are contingent on whether certain employees of the acquired company or business remain employed by the company for a specified period of time after the acquisition. When an employee is also a shareholder of the acquired target company, an issue can arise as to whether an earnout payment that is contingent on continued employment represents compensation for the employee-shareholder’s services, or consideration for the employee-shareholder’s stock. The U.S. federal income tax stakes are significant.

A selling shareholder generally recognizes capital gain or loss on the sale of stock. The amount of gain (or loss) recognized is the excess of the amount realized over the shareholder’s basis in the stock. The amount realized usually consists of cash received and a note or another right to deferred payments or the fair market value of any other property received. Installment method reporting applies to a gain on a sale if at least one payment is to be received after the tax year of the closing.

Read the full article, Another Look at U.S. Federal Income Tax Treatment of Contingent Earnout Payments.

Originally published in the Global Tax Weekly on July 17, 2014.