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Hastings Alumni Mag-Spring 2014

{ ENTERPRISE } Lawyering in the High-Tech Ecosystem In Silicon Valley, tech attorneys play increasingly creative, entrepreneurial, and indispensable roles. 26 SPRING 2014 hen people think of Silicon Valley, the images that come to mind are kids coding day and night on their computers and deep-pocketed investors looking to cash in on what Michael Lewis called “the new new thing.” But beneath the circuitry and pitches lies a network of some of the nation’s smartest lawyers, part of a legal ecosystem that has fueled and sustained Silicon Valley’s innovation engine. They include tech veteran Glen Van Ligten ’90, who is also an adjunct professor at UC Hastings (see page 9). After nearly 22 years of practicing law in the Valley, Van Ligten is part of an elite group of legal professionals who have built their careers shepherding the technology startups and global high-tech companies that have sprouted in the fertile ground of Silicon Valley. “Lawyers in the tech sector are creators and facilitators, as opposed to folks just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s,” Van Ligten says. “The top lawyers in town can bring more of a variety of value than any other participant in the technology ecosystem. Lawyers are generally the first person an entrepreneur calls to get started.” Van Ligten’s firm, Gunderson Dettmer, one of Silicon Valley’s top law firms focusing on emerging growth companies, has been behind some of the most successful startups in the country, including Tumblr, the microblogging site that was acquired by Yahoo! for $1.1 billion in July 2013. The complex role that he and other Valley lawyers play, Van Ligten notes, “is part legal adviser, part therapist, and part business adviser.” Those embedded in the tech sector say that if you can think like an entrepreneur, embrace technology, tolerate risk, and be creative, there is no better place to practice law today. Whether they’re corporate attorneys, IP specialists, or tax practitioners, lawyers have become an integral part of every technology company’s life cycle. They are involved in everything from incorporation, public offerings, and mergers and acquisitions, to protecting and enforcing intellectual property; they also often craft the most advantageous corporate structures and tax strategies. Jon Gavenman ’91, a partner in Cooley’s emerging companies practice, agrees. Gavenman, a veteran Valley corporate lawyer, says that the “vast bulk” of the business world does not work the way the startup sector does. “In emerging companies, you can assume that when it’s two guys, a dog, and a garage, the first person on the scene will be a lawyer,” Gavenman says. “We are there not just on the ground floor but when it’s still a patch of dirt.” “Lawyers in the tech sector are creators and facilitators, as opposed to folks just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.” —Glen Van Ligten ’90


Hastings Alumni Mag-Spring 2014
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