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In a move he hopes will help transform Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati into a national powerhouse, Larry Sonsini has announced some changes at the top. The firm’s chairman and CEO is giving up his CEO role and handing it over to partner John Roos, presently the managing director of professional services. The firm’s managing director of business development, Jeffrey Saper, will take over as Wilson’s vice chairman. The changes, which Sonsini said have been in the planning stages for months, were announced Sunday firmwide. In an interview Friday, Sonsini, 64, insisted his move was not about succession or anointment of any one partner. He said it was more about “institutionalizing management” as the firm made its transition from a first- to second-generation firm. “We are 40 years old. I’ve been here for 38 of those years,” he said. “We are entering a new phase of history for the firm — just as Latham [& Watkins] went through it some years ago.” “My plan right now is to build this firm into more of a nationally prominent powerhouse,” Sonsini said. Wilson Sonsini — generally acknowledged as the top technology law firm on the West Coast — has offices in eight U.S. cities. But the vast majority of the firm’s 600 attorneys are in Palo Alto and San Francisco. None of the other offices has more than about 30 lawyers. By contrast, 1,500-lawyer Latham boasts 250 lawyers in Los Angeles, 150 in the Bay Area, 250 in New York and many other sizable offices around the world. Wilson’s management changes will give Sonsini more time to focus on his practice, expanded responsibilities at the New York Stock Exchange, the overall firm strategy and continuing to build Wilson’s client base. Sonsini said it’s a positive change, and other prominent players in the Valley agreed. “Good for him,” said Fenwick & West Chairman Gordon Davidson. “That’s the ideal role for Larry. He shouldn’t get bogged down with the day-to-day. He is a powerful business getter and a consummate lawyer.” Latham partner Alan Mendelson analogized the move to changes made by entrepreneurs like Bill Gates that transformed small companies into international powerhouses. He said the move was especially necessary for firms where power has been concentrated in a single individual. “I had the experience in the last few weeks of talking to a bunch of Testa, [Hurwitz & Thibeault] partners, and it was very sad,” Mendelson said. “Dick Testa was the Larry Sonsini of the East Coast, and when he died two years ago, it was relatively sudden and the place never really recovered.” Mendelson believed he actually suggested the idea to Sonsini’s son, Matthew, at a lunch several months ago. “I said to him, ‘Go back and tell your father the number one thing he should be thinking about is institutionalizing the leadership of the firm,’” Mendelson said. Sonsini stressed that he’s not thinking about leaving any time soon. “I realize that I am 64, and I think that I am much younger. Why should I think about [retirement] as along as I have my health and I am in top shape? “I am the hardest working lawyer in the firm, and I intend to hold this position for a very long time.” Roos, who has worked at Wilson for 20 years, will give up his corporate practice to become the firm’s full-time CEO. He said he was excited about his expanded role — although he did plan on maintaining key client relationships. “This is an evolution of the firm,” said Roos. “We are a major company that needs full-time management.” Saper’s focus will be on client development as well as expanding his own practice. “We want Jeff to spend more time with his practice and less time with management,” Sonsini said. Under the new structure both Roos and Saper still report to Sonsini. But as CEO, Roos is more senior. Partner Donna Petkanics, meanwhile, retains her role as managing director of operations. The firm also restructured management five years ago when Alan Austin relinquished his role as managing partner. At that time, Sonsini splintered operational management responsibilities among several partners. “This is a change that is positive,” Sonsini said Friday. “Empowering people such as John and Jeff re-energizes the management — makes it less dependent upon one person for decision-making.”

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