SAN FRANCISCO After two years as general counsel at Tesla Motors, Eric Whitaker has stepped down from his post at the electric carmaker.
Whitaker, who resigned earlier this month, said he cut outside legal spending by 70 percent, quadrupled the number of in-house attorneys and helped build the company's patent portfolio during his tenure.
"We wish him the best of luck with his next endeavor," Tesla communications manager Shanna Hendriks wrote in an email. She declined to comment on the search for Whitaker's successor.
"When I accepted the job at Tesla, it had a reputation of being a very difficult environment for lawyers," Whitaker said. "In the last two years, we have shown that lawyers can be effective and successful there."
Whitaker was Tesla's third general counsel in just more than three years. Former Yahoo general counsel Jonathan Sobel, who took the reins from Craig Harding in September 2009, resigned after several months. His departure left the company without a general counsel as it conducted its initial public offering in 2010.
Whitaker said he decided to leave Tesla before securing his next job so he would have ample time to weigh his options. He is in talks with several companies and has already received a job offer.
The company has had to confront various legal hurdles to grow. Certain states, for example, bar manufacturers from owning dealerships directly, Whitaker noted. In one of his last efforts on behalf of Tesla, Whitaker fought a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association to stop the company from operating a dealership in the state.
Whitaker said that he was "jubilant" when he learned Monday that the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction had been denied earlier this month. Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association v. Tesla Motors, 01691B, was the first formal legal action taken against Tesla by a dealership, and Whitaker said he is now confident that the company will be able to fend off objections in other states.
"It is really critical for the company that it be able to implement its sales and distribution strategy as planned," he said.