(Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

When Elliot Katz started counseling the makers of internet-connected vehicles on privacy matters as an associate at DLA Piper in 2011, he heard he was making a wrong turn in Big Law.

“People told me I was throwing my career away,” Katz recalled. “I was dealing with stuff that was a science fiction movie, a hundred years away.”

But in 2017, Katz’s practice is “like, the king of the cocktail party,” he said this week, one which saw him leave the global legal giant—where he co-chaired the connected and self-driving car practice at DLA Piper—to join McGuireWoods as a partner in San Francisco.

At McGuireWoods, which opened an office in the Bay Area last year, Katz will lead his new firm’s connected and autonomous vehicle practice. As self-driving cars have become more of a reality within the past three years, Katz has seen his practice expand into liability, insurance and policy matters. The presence of an established automotive practice at McGuireWoods sets it apart from other firms in the Bay Area, he said.

While most firms in the region have focused on building their technology practices, what his clients actually need is corporate, tax and patent advice from lawyers with experience counseling vehicle makers.

“Coming to McGuire allows me to link up with a team of folks who’d been doing real work in the automotive space for quite some time,” said Katz, who in 2014 was an attorney secondee in the office of the general counsel at Ford Motor Co.

Katz’s move to McGuireWoods comes two months after the firm recruited a high-profile technology law lobbying team in Washington, D.C., led by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld senior policy adviser Michael Drobac and senior counsel Gregory Walden. Drobac is a former government affairs head at Netflix Inc., while Walden previously served as chief counsel at the Federal Aviation Administration. Drobac, who has done drone advocacy work for Amazon.com Inc., also serves as executive director of the Small UAV Coalition Inc.

Richmond, Virginia-based McGuireWoods opened with a splash in San Francisco last year by bringing on a high-powered financial services litigation team from Reed Smith led by partners Mary Hackett and David Powell. McGuireWoods has continued to hire in the city, bringing on Alston & Bird corporate partner Lior Nuchi in October and hiring four financial institutions partners from Chapman and Cutler earlier this year.

McGuireWoods has been on a bit of a lateral tear in recent weeks, landing King & Wood Mallesons debt finance partner Lorraine Vaz and K&L Gates M&A partner Jeremy Davis in London, as noted by sibling publication Legal Week, as well as Andrews Kurth Kenyon international arbitration partner Richard Deutsch in Dallas. McGuireWoods also welcomed Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker product liability and consumer litigation partner John Henderson in Dallas, where McGuireWoods opened an office in 2014.

Katz (pictured right) said that McGuireWoods recruited him after seeing him speak at the Stanford Technology Law Symposium in March.

“Automated technologies are transforming the auto sector, and Elliot has unmatched experience and the know-how to effectively guide clients through this transformation,” said a statement by Scott Westwood, a lateral recruit to McGuireWoods in 2004 and now chair of the firm’s M&A, corporate transactions and technology department. “Combining the firm’s auto sector leadership with Elliot’s connected and automated vehicle experience will be key to taking our emerging technologies capabilities to the next level.”

Katz will be looking for opportunities to grow his new practice group, he said. Though there’s currently a shortage of lawyers with self-driving car expertise, he said hiring from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration might be one possibility. And besides, when it comes to representing autonomous vehicle makers, prior experience isn’t the most important quality.

“I get reached out to at least once a week now by different attorneys both inside and outside the Bay Area who are looking to get into this space, and generally speaking, they have a really good skillset,” Katz said. “They’ve learned about the space. As long as you come with those tools and a readiness to let this completely consume you—because this space changes literally every day—people can enter the space and do well.”

When Elliot Katz started counseling the makers of internet-connected vehicles on privacy matters as an associate at DLA Piper in 2011, he heard he was making a wrong turn in Big Law.

“People told me I was throwing my career away,” Katz recalled. “I was dealing with stuff that was a science fiction movie, a hundred years away.”

But in 2017, Katz’s practice is “like, the king of the cocktail party,” he said this week, one which saw him leave the global legal giant—where he co-chaired the connected and self-driving car practice at DLA Piper —to join McGuireWoods as a partner in San Francisco.

At McGuireWoods, which opened an office in the Bay Area last year, Katz will lead his new firm’s connected and autonomous vehicle practice. As self-driving cars have become more of a reality within the past three years, Katz has seen his practice expand into liability, insurance and policy matters. The presence of an established automotive practice at McGuireWoods sets it apart from other firms in the Bay Area, he said.

While most firms in the region have focused on building their technology practices, what his clients actually need is corporate, tax and patent advice from lawyers with experience counseling vehicle makers.

“Coming to McGuire allows me to link up with a team of folks who’d been doing real work in the automotive space for quite some time,” said Katz, who in 2014 was an attorney secondee in the office of the general counsel at Ford Motor Co.

Katz’s move to McGuireWoods comes two months after the firm recruited a high-profile technology law lobbying team in Washington, D.C., led by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld senior policy adviser Michael Drobac and senior counsel Gregory Walden. Drobac is a former government affairs head at Netflix Inc. , while Walden previously served as chief counsel at the Federal Aviation Administration. Drobac, who has done drone advocacy work for Amazon.com Inc. , also serves as executive director of the Small UAV Coalition Inc.

Richmond, Virginia-based McGuireWoods opened with a splash in San Francisco last year by bringing on a high-powered financial services litigation team from Reed Smith led by partners Mary Hackett and David Powell. McGuireWoods has continued to hire in the city, bringing on Alston & Bird corporate partner Lior Nuchi in October and hiring four financial institutions partners from Chapman and Cutler earlier this year.

McGuireWoods has been on a bit of a lateral tear in recent weeks, landing King & Wood Mallesons debt finance partner Lorraine Vaz and K&L Gates M&A partner Jeremy Davis in London, as noted by sibling publication Legal Week, as well as Andrews Kurth Kenyon international arbitration partner Richard Deutsch in Dallas. McGuireWoods also welcomed Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker product liability and consumer litigation partner John Henderson in Dallas, where McGuireWoods opened an office in 2014.

Katz (pictured right) said that McGuireWoods recruited him after seeing him speak at the Stanford Technology Law Symposium in March.

“Automated technologies are transforming the auto sector, and Elliot has unmatched experience and the know-how to effectively guide clients through this transformation,” said a statement by Scott Westwood, a lateral recruit to McGuireWoods in 2004 and now chair of the firm’s M&A, corporate transactions and technology department. “Combining the firm’s auto sector leadership with Elliot’s connected and automated vehicle experience will be key to taking our emerging technologies capabilities to the next level.”

Katz will be looking for opportunities to grow his new practice group, he said. Though there’s currently a shortage of lawyers with self-driving car expertise, he said hiring from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration might be one possibility. And besides, when it comes to representing autonomous vehicle makers, prior experience isn’t the most important quality.

“I get reached out to at least once a week now by different attorneys both inside and outside the Bay Area who are looking to get into this space, and generally speaking, they have a really good skillset,” Katz said. “They’ve learned about the space. As long as you come with those tools and a readiness to let this completely consume you—because this space changes literally every day—people can enter the space and do well.”