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A joke made the rounds when Christopher “Kit” Kaufman underwent heart surgery back in 1996. It went a little something like this: how hard does the Latham & Watkins partner work? So hard, he billed 200 hours that month he had open-heart surgery. The joke, however, isn’t true. He only billed 176 hours. Despite his status as a billing machine for Latham, Kaufman is something of a stealth player in Silicon Valley. He doesn’t network, doesn’t schmooze and doesn’t belong to the clubby deal-making Silicon Valley set lunching at Spago’s in Palo Alto, Calif. Of course, he doesn’t really have to. Last year, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based partner booked some $20 million in revenue, billed 3,600 hours, and put to work 38 associates from each of Latham’s 14 offices. And at a firm where profits per partner topped $1 million last year, making it the most lucrative in California, Kaufman is said by fellow partners to take home one of the biggest draws. He’s also built up fierce loyalty among his clients — which range from mature companies like Lucasfilm Ltd. to start-ups. Kaufman is doing the kind of transactional law many Silicon Valley lawyers may be forced to grapple with as companies in the region mature. On top of the usual IPOs, he’s doing corporate work more familiar among New York firms: hostile takeovers, exotic premium financings, and big-ticket mergers. Not surprisingly, his Latham partners love having him on their team. “He still rolls up his sleeves — he knows the issues, the law, the facts,” says Robert Dell, Latham’s chairman and the person who recruited Kaufman 10 years ago. But Kaufman is not universally liked by lawyers who’ve sat across from him at the deal table. In a Silicon Valley legal culture that values big-picture vision, they claim Kaufman insists on quibbling over details. Even a longtime Kaufman partner admits he can be gruff and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. “His greatest weakness is his impatience, driven by the fact that he’s so smart and so dedicated to getting something done quickly that he doesn’t recognize that not everybody’s up to his caliber,” says Paul Dawes, a litigation partner who was recruited alongside Kaufman. Of course, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the grudging admiration of his competitors. Lawyers who aspire to build Kaufman’s kind of practice would be wise to emulate him, says Venture Law Group’s Joshua Green. “They’re going to need his characteristics if they’re going to adopt his kind of practice,” Green says. “They would be well-advised to adopt his passion — as opposed to a ‘nice-to-have,’ it’s a ‘need-to-have.’” Green, by the way, says he has not had a bad Kaufman experience. FEW VALLEY TRAITS To be sure, Kaufman exhibits few of the traits that have come to be associated with the typical Silicon Valley lawyer. But then, the typical Silicon Valley lawyer hasn’t been around as long as he has. The 55-year-old Kaufman is the son of a name partner of the white-shoe Chicago labor and corporate firm of Vedder, Price, Kaufman & Kammholz. High school tennis team captain and yearbook editor, Kaufman indulged his love of novels by studying English literature at Amherst College. He graduated in 1967. And while many of his generation were exploring more radical directions, he took the ultimate establishment route, enrolling in Harvard University Law School. An anti-nepotism clause kept him from joining his father’s firm when he graduated in 1970. So, instead of returning to Chicago, he struck out west, joining San Francisco-based McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enerson as an employment associate, representing employers. Two years later, after discovering he relished the deal-making more, he joined Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, also based in San Francisco, and started doing corporate work. “One of my closest friends was at Heller, and he thought they had a great corporate department,” says Kaufman. At Heller, Kaufman rose through the ranks, tapping into the region’s growing biotechnology industry and becoming one of the firm’s top corporate rainmakers and the managing partner of the Palo Alto office. But Kaufman had broader ambitions and after tangling with his partners over Heller’s regional focus, he sought out a national firm with a higher-end corporate practice. Enter Latham. Starting in 1990 in the firm’s San Francisco office, Kaufman built up his stable of large, blue-chip clients. He also learned the finer points of executing complex, premium transactions favored by the big boys. In the meantime, a technology revolution happened to the south. Kaufman’s Silicon Valley competitors made names for themselves, building huge stables of hot and happening technology darlings. And he was itching to join them. He finally did in 1997, but found he had become an outsider, despite his previous experience in the Valley. It’s something he still struggles with. “I commend the others with having the forethought to come here a long time ago,” Kaufman says. But any catch-up, he contends, is just in terms of visibility. MOVING HEAVEN AND EARTH Kaufman may be more fashionable than he thinks — necktie and suit coat notwithstanding. As Silicon Valley’s brood of young technology companies grows up, they will need more lawyers like Kaufman who can, for example, do a hostile takeover. Take, for instance, Kaufman’s work in 1998 and 1999 on Wilsonville, Ore.-based Mentor Graphics Corp.’s hostile bid for San Jose, Calif.’s Quickturn Design Systems Inc. Such unwanted takeovers are rare in technology industries. The thinking has been that a young technology company’s assets are primarily employees and intellectual property, and neither are likely to be around after a hostile takeover closes. But Mentor and Quickturn were both a little more mature, and Mentor saw the takeover as a way to plump its store of products, not talent. As Mentor’s lawyer, Kaufman became the aggressor and adopted a take-no-prisoners approach uncommon in the generally friendly technology deals the Valley is more accustomed to. In Kaufman, “I have a partner who will move heaven and earth to deliver everything the firm possibly can,” says George Hinckley, Mentor Graphics’ chief operating officer. Kaufman also found fans at Mayfield Fund, the venerable Menlo Park venture capital firm. Latham partner Allen Morgan quit the law to join Mayfield in 1998, and that warmed the relationship. But Kaufman quickly became a favorite for Mayfield’s former general manager George Pavlov. “Kit is in many ways practical and stays very focused,” says Pavlov, “instead of getting distracted” by the strategic development issues Pavlov was usually reining in. That could explain why Kaufman’s name doesn’t show up on the same list of lawyers who have fashioned themselves into deal strategists. Kaufman says it’s a matter of perspective and shrugs off his relative anonymity. He also says Latham’s prominence, and his own, are growing. “I do consider myself a real advocate for my client’s position,” says Kaufman. He chafes a little at his critics, saying he really only argues the most important points and not only looks to do a deal but wants to do it right. It is, after all, what he would want from his own lawyer. He even dresses the way he expects a lawyer to dress, insisting upon a suit and a necktie, even while everyone around him regularly wears polo shirts and khakis. “I’m not making a statement; it’s like when I go to the doctor, I expect to see a little white coat,” Kaufman says. He does, however, eschew the Silicon Valley social scene, and with two young children at home, his time not spent with clients is precious. Even while keeping largely to himself, he’s built up a client list that’s probably longer than what’s desirable. For the record, his 1996 heart surgery was to repair a congenital defect. But friends, colleagues, and partners say he works too hard. “I think Kit, to his credit and his detriment, is always available,” says Gordon Radley, president of Lucasfilm and an Amherst chum. But Radley couldn’t imagine hiring any other corporate lawyer. “We use him for his business acumen. He performs more as a counsel than simply being a lawyer’s lawyer.”

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