HP bought the maker of the once popular PalmPilot for $1.2 billion in 2010, and after an unsuccessful integration, it stopped production on the company's products and said last August that it will put the remaining Palm business into a new subsidiary called Gram.
The sheer number of startups in the San Francisco Bay Area has helped buoy the local market for in-house counsel, Whitaker said, but those can often be riskier positions. "The hard part with newer, private companies is whether they will be around in the long term." A general counsel is usually brought in for the first time within 18 months to two years before an IPO, but a lot can happen over that time and there is a much greater amount of the compensation tied to stock options and company performance.
Still, the chance to join a fast-growing business like Splunk can be a big lure, Stein said. "We are fortunate to be a very desirable place to work," adding that companies like his rarely need recruiters except when looking for very specific skill sets.
A BETTER SEAT AT THE TABLE
For entrepreneurial-minded technology lawyers, an in-house position will generally bring them closer to operational decision making. "There is a history in the Valley of attorneys taking on a much more advisory role," said Buckland, the Wilmer lawyer.
In-house counsel are being brought more frequently into the business decision-making process, according to Cynthia Dow, who specializes in corporate counsel recruiting at the executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates in New York.
"In-house lawyers at top companies really do have a seat at the table," due to the increasing importance of regulatory compliance and intellectual property issues, Dow added.
As a whole, technology company attorneys are better paid. Median salaries for general counsel around the country have increased slightly, from about $1.51 million to $1.55 million between 2011 and 2012 according to Redwood City, Calif.-based Equilar, an executive compensation data firm.
However, technology, media and telecommunications companies have the highest-paid head attorneys in the country, with a median income of about $1.68 million, despite having the third-lowest revenues of the eight industry groupings used by Equilar.
Whitaker offers his experience at Tesla as an example of what's expected of in-house lawyers today.