The Law of the Valley

As Silicon Valley gives rise to innovation, start-ups, and Fortune 100 companies, legal minds from across the country are heading west to be part of the dynamic scene

Just off of Addison street, about two miles northeast of Stanford University, and tucked behind a two-story, shingle-style home is where it all began. It’s here that lies a 12×18-foot garage—better known as the HP Garage—thanks to Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Some may unknowingly walk right past it on the residential street of Palo Alto, California. But for entrepreneurs, creators, dreamers, and now, lawyers, the structure stands as a symbol of innovation—a reminder to those venturing west to Silicon Valley that anything is possible.

Silicon Valley has become synonymous with ingenuity. The San Francisco Bay Area has given rise to the likes of Google, eBay, Tesla Motors, and countless Fortune 100 companies. At the same time, it has become a bedrock for start-ups and groundbreaking developments, as well as notable universities. This rise in innovation, however, has not only produced some of the most acclaimed companies in the world, but has also paved the way for creative legal minds.

As new start-ups continue to sprout and as legacy companies move into the valley, so too do some of the most innovative and intelligent legal minds in the country. “They all want to be part of this dream, this creativity, and this innovation and technology that’s happening here,” explains Craig Dauchy, partner at Cooley and graduate of Stanford Law School.

As a result, Dauchy believes there is “no question” that a correlation exists between the rise of business and innovation in the valley with that of legal professionals. “As companies grow, they need lawyers both inside and outside of those companies. Even as manufacturing or other elements of their programs move offshore, legal doesn’t move offshore. Legal departments are here, and therefore I think the opportunities are as great as they ever were,” Dauchy says.

Aside from a rise in business opportunities, there is a culture that exists in Silicon Valley that has influenced legal professionals wanting to head west as well. Curtis Scott, associate general counsel for Uber, says the valley is about being results-orientated. Those with a vision who are able to produce results will be given further opportunities, rewards, and more challenges in the valley.

“As a lawyer, you have to identify risk; that’s a key role that you play,” Scott says. “But you can also be part of the creation and growth in Silicon Valley. I think lawyers who are more business-oriented and want to be part of building something—and a lot of general counsel are because you can play in a lot of spaces in the legal realm—this is really attractive because you can have that type of opportunity.”

Stephen Wu, shareholder for the Silicon Valley Law Group, contributes the rise of the valley to five key factors: notable universities, a community of venture capital financing, engineers accomplishing work in high-tech fields, the rise of software, and the area itself is known for its geographical beauty and being a prominent destination.

“There have been any number of areas that lay claim to being the ‘Silicon Valley of the blank,’ whether it’s New York, or whether it’s Boston, or the Research Triangle, or Austin, or Chicago, other places like that. But nobody’s ever been able to put together a technology community the way that Silicon Valley has,” Wu says. “I’m not sure it is possible for there to be a true competitor—at least for now.”

Because Silicon Valley is in this category of innovation all on its own, it has made practicing law in the valley unique in comparison to other areas of the United States. One of the main reasons is because the pace of technology and innovation is constantly escalating. “Silicon Valley isn’t like Wall Street where you’re thinking in year-long terms and moving to a financial quarter,” Scott says. “We’re living in a day, an hour, a minute here, especially when you’re in a start-up fighting to survive. You have to be able to adapt quickly in a changing market condition, regulation, financial reality, etc.”

Kalinda Raina, head of global privacy for LinkedIn, studied at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and started her practice in Silicon Valley. After leaving for other roles in Philadelphia and Seattle, she returned to the valley. “I came back here because this is the place that I think this is the most interesting and challenging place to practice law as a tech lawyer,” Raina says.

While Raina says the pace does move faster in Silicon Valley, the focus is on thinking outside the box and being accessible. “People don’t care where you are physically. You could be working at the beach for all anyone cares as long as you are responsive, creative, and get the deal done,” Raina says.

One of the reasons for this accelerated pace, Dauchy explains, is because the competition is fierce. Every day, businesses are sprouting, whether it’s a new location for a Fortune 500 company, a start-up, or two entrepreneurs who just bought a house with a garage to house an idea.

“The days when you could mark up a document and send it to word processing to get it done and maybe get it back six hours later—those days are gone,” Dauchy says. “Our clients want to be able to communicate with us instantaneously on our phones and expect responses very, very quickly. You better be a master of your cell phone to be able to deal with all of this as well as a master of your laptop.”

That tangible energy that existed for HP’s founders years ago in a garage is still as dynamic as ever in the valley. And the same can be said from the perspective of legal professionals. The valley isn’t just a location that happens to be a venue for some of the largest companies in the United States. Rather, it’s a culture that allows for creativity, experimentation, and new ideas that may be dismissed elsewhere. It’s a mind-set that isn’t only attractive for entrepreneurs, but also for lawyers.

“When you’re outside of Silicon Valley, there are such rigid rules around ideas and development,” Scott says. “In Silicon Valley, all ideas are allowed to compete, and the best idea wins. Because of that, I think you see such creativity and
innovation flourish.”