Jorge del Calvo, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman partner
Jorge del Calvo, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman partner (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)

PALO ALTO ­— The proposed merger last year of Orrick and Pillsbury would have created a firm with more than 600 partners. But when Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe chairman Mitchell Zuklie recently ticked through the factors that made the combination worth pursuing, he mentioned only one partner by name—and he mentioned him twice.

Jorge del Calvo, who’s been at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman since 1981, is the anchor of his firm’s corporate practice, its Valley office and, arguably, its claim to be a major player in the tech space. He has a $20 million book of business and since 2000, he has represented more tech companies in U.S. initial public offerings than anyone other than Fenwick & West’s Gordon Davidson: The two are essentially tied, according to IPO Vital Signs. Del Calvo’s client list lacks some of the flash of his Valley competitors: He didn’t bring to market Facebook, Twitter or Zynga—Fenwick, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Cooley did. But lesser-known names helped put Pillsbury just behind those firms for U.S. IPO volume in 2012, belying the stodgy reputation that still can cling to the 140-year-old firm. Del Calvo’s practice isn’t limited to IPOs—he advised SYNNEX on its $505 million buy of IBM’s customer-care business last fall. And he argues that Pillsbury has an edge over those Valley names because its tech practice has a global reach.

His loyalty to Pillsbury is by now seen as unshakable, though over the years he’s been a continual target of recruitment efforts by out-of-town firms looking to establish instant credibility in the market. That’s a good thing for Pillsbury because he is a big part of the brand.

“He is the guy at Pillsbury. Wilson has Larry; Fenwick has Gordy,” said Kenton King, partner in charge of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s Palo Alto office. Adam Tachner, vice president and general counsel of San Jose’s InvenSense Inc., has worked with del Calvo and his team since he was at semiconductor maker Atheros. He says he keeps coming back to them because they quickly ramp up on his company’s issues. “They don’t tend to cycle through a lot of people,” he said. Pillsbury advised Atheros, on its series B funding, its IPO in 2004, six acquisitions and, ultimately, its sale to Qualcomm for $3.6 billion in early 2011. Tachner has just started working with Pillsbury again at InvenSense, which he joined in the fall.

He remembers when Pillsbury was counseling Atheros on its sale to Qualcomm, and the day before the deal was supposed to be announced, it was reported in The New York Times. As he and his team buzzed about what to do and who leaked the story, del Calvo’s response was: “We’ve got work to do, let’s get back to it, and address the issues we have control over.” “That was the sort of quiet wisdom that someone like Jorge offered,” Tachner said. “He was able to turn away from all the distractions and, amidst all the work that still needed to be done, focus.”

BUILDING THE BUSINESS

Pillsbury can trace its tech roots back to the Valley’s infancy. Though known for its representation of blue-chip clients such as Chevron, Pillsbury lawyers advised on the formation of Intel Corp. and later took Intel and Genentech public.

Del Calvo joined the firm’s S.F. office after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1981. In the mid-1990s, he moved to the Valley office, which had opened in 1991, and took his first company public shortly thereafter with the help of colleague Allison Leopold Tilley. The bulk of del Calvo’s practice­—about 80 percent, he says—is made up of existing clients, “company-side work,” followed by underwriters and then individuals and venture funds. His new clients tend to be referrals from company executives, venture capitalists and the occasional underwriter, he says.

“A lot of it is really picking the right clients at the right time,” said del Calvo, who at the beginning of every year takes top venture capitalists to lunch to quiz them about the next wave of innovation. When the technology industry expanded from a regional to a global scale at the turn of the millennium, Pillsbury had an edge over its tech-focused competitors in the Valley, del Calvo said. “We were the only [global] tech firm,” he said. “The tech firms have been struggling ever since to catch up.” Today, Wilson Sonsini has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Brussels, while Cooley has an office in Shanghai.

Pillsbury’s international forays­—into London in 1972, Tokyo in 1991, Shanghai in 2006, Abu Dhabi in 2011—initially supported the firm’s longtime institutional clients. Today, del Calvo says, at least one tech specialist is posted in each of the firm’s 16 offices. He points to London-based Rafi Azim-Khan, a privacy expert based in Europe, and L.A.-based Deborah Thoren-Peden, a specialist in electronic payments.

Leopold Tilley agreed that Pillsbury’s international offices have become increasingly important for Pillsbury’s corporate practice. “All the startups from day one are international because they’ll have a back end in China or Vietnam and operations in Russia,” she said. “The last thing in the world a startup wants is to be working with multiple law firms.”

The firm’s regulatory practice in Washington, D.C., bolstered by the 2005 merger with Shaw Pittman, has also benefited Pillsbury’s large tech clients, del Calvo said. “People [out here] ignored Washington for the most part, but it has always been an issue for our large, institutional clients,” he said.

PILLSBURY LIFERS

Since del Calvo’s arrival in the Valley two decades ago, scores of other AmLaw firms have opened offices here. Recruiters say many of the new arrivals have put del Calvo on their wish lists. But the conversation, if del Calvo even entertains it, never goes very far. “He’s happy to meet and give them educational perspective about the market, but never with the intention of leaving,” said recruiter Larry Watanabe.

His loyalty to the firm seems matched by other members of the Valley corporate practice. Leopold Tilley joined as an associate in 1988 and several other partners in the group, including Davina Kaile, Stanley Pierson, Gabriella Lombardi and Stanton Wong, arrived more than 15 years ago.

“It’s really statistically unusual to have that kind of stability in a group,” Watanabe said. “Particularly, because this is the biggest free-agent market in California, and maybe the country, and it’s a recruiting strategy to think: If we can’t get Jorge, we’ll make a run at a rising star.”

But like del Calvo, Leopold Tilley said she’s not interested in the recruiting pitches. “I can’t imagine what another firm would have to offer me that’s better than Pillsbury,” she said.

Pillsbury, meanwhile, has attracted a steady stream of corporate laterals who want to work with del Calvo and his group.

When Alan Kalin, who represents emerging-growth companies, joined the team from Bingham McCutchen earlier this year, he pointed to Leopold Tilley, del Calvo, Pierson and Kaile as the primary draw. Watanabe said the tech-focused corporate attorneys he has placed in the firm’s Silicon Valley office, including Kalin, Thomas Chaffin, Stephen Wurzburg, Richard Bebb and Greg Pickrell, “largely came in because of Jorge.”

Craig Barbarosh, an insolvency/restructuring partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman who spent 20 years at Pillsbury, said he could see why del Calvo would be hard to pry away. “At Pillsbury, if you get to the senior level, and you’re generating a lot of business, you have a lot of autonomy,” Barbarosh said. “They don’t want to create a lot of bureaucracy for Jorge, and it works.”

For his own part, del Calvo says he’s never been tempted by other firms’ offers because he’s “really just loyal,” he said. “It’s sort of an anachronism, I think.” That doesn’t mean he’s against change. He describes himself as a “big fan” of the merger discussions between Pillsbury and Orrick last fall. He liked the combined global platform, he said, but also has “tremendous respect” for Orrick and “what they’ve built in the Valley.” He’s been particularly impressed by partners John Bautista and Stephen Venuto, who are in the emerging-companies practice in Orrick’s San Francisco and Silicon Valley offices, he said. “Each has distinguished himself by his collegiality, legal talent and also by his development of practices with scale at a relatively young age,” he wrote in an email.

BRINGING UP THE NEXT GENERATION

Del Calvo said the team sticks together because the more senior lawyers share work and credit with junior lawyers. He remembers Kaile taking a lead role as a fourth year in a $2.2 billion secondary offering for Network Solutions. Tied up with four other IPOs, Kaile turned to del Calvo when she couldn’t make it to a key meeting. “I remember letting them know that I would attend in Davina’s place, charge them her rates for meetings she would have attended independently, and you know what their response was? ‘I guess that will have to do,’” del Calvo said.

“To retain people like that you really have to give them the opportunity to shine—if you can do that your service is so much better,” he said.

Del Calvo said his practice is “very distributed,” leaving room for partners to develop and tend to their own clients. Leopold Tilley’s practice differs slightly from del Calvo’s in that she tends to focus more on venture-fund formation and private-equity work, Leopold Tilley said. She has introduced Notify Technology, which Pillsbury advised on its sale to Globo at the end of last year, and BlueStack Systems, which she represented in its venture financing, to the firm. And she advised Mission West Properties on its $1.3 billion sale to DivcoWest and TPG Real Estate, as well as Apigee Corp. on its acquisition of data analytics company InsightsOne Inc. last December.

Del Calvo “lets people take as much responsibility as they’re interested in taking,” she said.

“I honestly think we’re one of the top corporate firms in the U.S.,” del Calvo says. There was a time, del Calvo concedes, when Pillsbury had the reputation as a white-shoe firm, but things have changed, at least for the Valley office.

“It’s really been 30 years since that was actually true, and at some point perception has to match reality,” he said.

Contact the reporter at npierrepont@alm.com.