It’s not that Jason Yurasek can’t or won’t follow the rules. He is a lawyer, after all. In fact, Yurasek has a healthy respect for the rules.
At least the ones that make sense.
The rest exist to be questioned and need to withstand his scrutiny. Yurasek nurtures a bit of a rebellious spirit. It’s something that’s always been there. And while he always operates within the bounds of the law, he prefers to follow a different playbook—his own.
Some who knew Yurasek during his childhood remember him as “strong-willed” and “argumentative,” but he prefers “creative” or “precocious.” He grew up acting, singing, and performing, and was always the only kid sitting with the adults to debate law, politics, and religion.
Those interests compelled him to double major in English and philosophy before continuing on to Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. That’s where an influential final lecture from Robert P. Burns helped him understand the importance of professional boundaries.
Burns, who has now taught at Northwestern for more than forty years, is a renowned legal ethics expert. He challenged Yurasek and his classmates to take the time to define their own “moral compass” and protect it with a strong wall that would withstand the storms that threaten to erode it over the course of a legal career. Yurasek heeded the advice and created a few principles that continue to guide his career today.
Follow Your Own Instincts
Following his instincts is easy for Yurasek because it was something he has always practiced. “I have not followed conventional wisdom and done the obvious things everyone tells you that you have to do in order to succeed,” he says.
While Yurasek’s peers rushed to join the law review, he volunteered for Legal Aid. Why would he spend all his time reading and editing a professor’s writing when he knew he wanted to be in court? His decision paid off. In Yurasek’s third year, the clinic appealed a case and the young student found himself arguing before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Don’t Play Games
Yurasek started his career at Jenner & Block LLP and later spent eight years at Bingham McCutchen LLP. He was in court on a high-profile tech case involving a hostile takeover and trade libel when something he overheard surprised him. The judge told a senior partner to seek forgiveness rather than permission. Despite the invitation by the judge for his side to bend the rules to see what they could get away with, he recalled Professor Burns’ admonitions and doubled down on his commitment in law school to never alter the truth or sacrifice his integrity in favor of convenience.
“Lawyers don’t have control over the facts, even though many of us think we do,” he says. “We have a high duty to be truthful and honest. We have to take the facts, argue what the law should be, and let the judge decide the results.”
As Yurasek continued moving up through big law firms, something interesting happened. He noticed that everyone vying for partner started acting a certain way. The closer they got to partner status, the more they suppressed their own thoughts. They seemed quieter in meetings. They were hesitant to speak hard truths to partners or risk disagreeing with a client. They even seemed to dress more formally than before. Everyone except for Yurasek, that is.
“I realized that if I was going to be true to myself, I would never be the person they wanted me to be to become a partner,” he says.
His peers wore conservative hairstyles and dark colored suits. Yurasek grew his hair out and dressed in denim. He even played music in his office until the wee hours working on briefs and occasionally cracked an inappropriate joke.
“You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not just to get a job, because then you’re stuck being that person for the rest of your life,” he says. Instead of begging for a promotion, Yurasek would let his work product speak for itself.
Refuse To Settle
The strategy worked. Yurasek had made partner in 2004, but in 2007 he decided to switch firms and joined Perkins Coie LLP.
He was still moving into his new office on his third day on the job when a senior partner approached him after hours. The partner needed urgent antitrust advice for an online classified platform in a dispute with a digital auction site. eBay, a minority shareholder, had just launched a competitive service and it appeared it had used its inside position at craigslist to unfairly compete and craigslist wanted to know its options.
At the time, Perkins Coie represented craigslist, and after that first meeting, the iconic website became one of Yurasek’s main clients.
Yurasek litigated against eBay in both California and Delaware, and his performance for the company over the next seven years caught the attention of craigslist’s founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster. craigslist wanted to hire Yurasek as its general counsel, and although Yurasek was interested, he hesitated. “I never wanted to live the big firm lifestyle, but I also didn’t want to abandon my other clients and interests” he says.
Together, craigslist and Yurasek came up with a unique arrangement: instead of becoming an employee as most general counsels do, Yurasek left Perkins Coie and created the JY Law Firm to act as general counsel to craigslist. This arrangement gave Yurasek the opportunity to serve as GC while continuing to represent his other corporate clients and enjoy some flexibility.
Think Beyond Profits
Today, Yurasek, through the JY Law Firm, handles all legal issues for craigslist, from litigation to corporate, including privacy, free speech, Communications Decency Act Section 230, data handling, corporate governance, employment, tax, government, and law enforcement relations.
He also helped craigslist’s founder create Craig Newmark Philanthropies, a charitable foundation that has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to promote trustworthy journalism, protect election rights, secure the internet, assist veterans, battle food insecurity, promote education, and increase diversity in tech.
Yurasek, a single father, says he enjoys providing a worthwhile service for good people who support one another. He manages his own schedule, helps guide strategy, all while being present for school drop off/pick up and varsity basketball games and choir performances. He also serves on and for nonprofit boards, takes pro bono cases, and serves as a judge pro tem in San Francisco, and offers mediation and arbitration services.
Keep Having Fun
There’s no denying that being a lawyer is hard work, even for those who try not to take themselves too seriously. Volumes are high, cases are stressful, and clients have a lot on the line.
Yurasek understands the importance of enjoying hobbies and meaningful community outside of work. During the pandemic, he joined an improv troupe. After months of remote rehearsal, they took the stage and recently had their first post-pandemic in-person show.
Gunster, Florida’s Law Firm for Business:
“Jason is an exceptionally talented general counsel who manages complex litigation with ease. We are proud to partner with him in representing craigslist.”
–Nicole Atkinson, Litigation Shareholder