X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
One day in 1985 Shaw Pittman’s Steven Meltzer and Kenneth Hautman drove out to Vienna, Va., and made a pitch to Quantum Computer Services. The small company was hoping to popularize the Internet — at the time the domain of engineers and academics. But Washington, D.C.-based Shaw Pittman (then known as Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge) wasn’t too worried about Quantum’s obscurity. Partner Meltzer and then-associate Hautman landed the work and became the company’s outside counsel, never dreaming their client would go on to lead a social and business revolution. In 1991, Quantum changed its name to America Online. Edwin Martin Jr., of D.C.’s Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe, also remembers Quantum. It was the first customer — and downstairs neighbor — of one of his early telecom clients. In the early 1990s, both Martin and Meltzer interviewed to represent AOL in its initial public offering — the role that wound up going to Kenneth Novak, then a partner at Boston’s Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo and now a top executive inside AOL. The lawyers not only were helping to launch AOL and other regional start-ups, but also were beginning to reshape the region’s legal market. Meltzer and Martin are first-generation members of the local corporate technology bar. So are Hautman, who left Shaw Pittman in 1993 to head the technology group at D.C.’s Hogan & Hartson; John Sullivan of Baltimore-based Venable; and Shaw Pittman’s Jack Lewis, counsel to William Cook of Reston’s Systems Center Inc. during the ’80s and ’90s. There are others. Hale and Dorr partner David Sylvester moved out from Silicon Valley in 1984. Cooley Godward partner Joseph Conroy started out with Richmond’s Hunton & Williams in 1986 and now runs Cooley’s Reston, Va., office. Their clients include three decades worth of leading technology executives: Steve Case of AOL; Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston of VisiCalc; Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes; James Rutt, chief executive officer of Network Solutions Inc.; and Erol Onaran, founder of Erols Internet Inc. Now, of course, there are dozens — if not hundreds — of attorneys trolling the Dulles Corridor and calling themselves technology lawyers. But as much as firms like to hype their expertise, a much smaller number of lawyers actually have years of experience doing corporate work for local technology clients. Present at the creation, they were the original dot-com lawyers. Their histories tell the story of how the high-tech industry — no matter the current gyrations of the marketplace — has changed the practice in the D.C. area. “There were four or five guys who were here before there was a here here,” says Sullivan, who heads Venable’s technology group from an office in McLean, Va. “There wasn’t a lot of money in it back then. We were doing it because it was fun.” STEVEN MELTZER: ACCIDENTALLY WITH PURPOSE Steven Meltzer landed at D.C.’s Shaw Pittman by accident. The son of a self-made businessman without a college degree, Meltzer grew up manning cash registers and delivering auto parts for his father’s shops in Rochester, N.Y., and then suburban Maryland. After graduating from Harvard University with both his law and business degrees in 1973, Meltzer planned to start work as a corporate attorney with D.C.’s Gadsby & Hannah, near his family in Silver Spring, Md. “I grew up determined to be the first lawyer in the family, and I figured I knew a little bit about business,” recalls the 53-year-old Meltzer. But in June of that year, Meltzer got a call from Gadsby & Hannah, informing him that the firm was having tough times and could afford to pay his salary only through November. So Meltzer contacted Ramsey Potts, whom he had met during campus interviews, and came to work for Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge. There wasn’t much corporate work to be done in Washington back then, Meltzer notes. “If I’d gone to work in New York, I could have earned an extra year’s pay for having an MBA,” he says. “But in Washington, lawyers I interviewed with advised me not to pursue the joint degree.” Still, there were a few small firms sprouting outside the District in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland — technology upstarts catering to federal agencies and feeding off government contracts. Among those so-called Beltway Bandits was American Management Systems, a technology consulting firm founded in 1970 by five former Pentagon employees. One of the founders, Charles Rossatti, was the husband of a Shaw Pittman attorney, and AMS became one of Meltzer’s early technology clients. “AMS was then in Rosslyn, Va., which was about as far into the suburbs as anyone wanted to go,” Meltzer says. “The thought was it was a lesser practice out in Virginia, that the real quality lawyers had D.C. addresses.” Today, AMS, based in Fairfax, Va., employs more than 8,000 people and brings in revenue of more than $1 billion a year. And no one is ridiculing Meltzer’s practice anymore. Since 1996 — when Meltzer moved his practice to the firm’s McLean, Va. office — revenues brought in by the corporate technology group have increased more than fivefold, making it one of Shaw Pittman’s fastest growing areas, says firm chairman Paul Mickey Jr. It was also in 1996 that Meltzer approached Jack Lewis, name partner at D.C.’s Tucker, Flyer & Lewis, about joining forces. Lewis and Meltzer had been competitors and acquaintances for 20 years. They sat opposite each other on a number of deals and referred work to each other on occasion. Meltzer first broached the subject of teaming up over breakfast in December 1996, Lewis recalls. “We talked about business in general and then he asked me to join him,” Lewis says. “His case was very compelling. Unfortunately, I turned him down.” But over the next two years, their conversations continued. Lewis, tired of losing IPO work to firms with larger platforms, began to seriously consider a move. In January 1999, Lewis left Tucker Flyer — the firm he had helped to create back in 1975 — and joined Shaw Pittman. The two veteran lawyers make an odd couple. Lewis, 55, tends to call things as he sees them; Meltzer is more reserved. But both appear deeply committed to building the firm’s corporate technology practice. As scores of law firms open offices in Northern Virginia, Lewis and Meltzer have turned down countless offers. For Meltzer, it comes down to loyalty. “If money was my primary objective, I would have gotten out of law a long time ago,” Meltzer says. “Shaw Pittman has given me the opportunity to build what I wanted to build.” NED MARTIN: PUBLIC MAN For the past four years Edwin “Ned” Martin Jr., co-chairman of the venture capital and emerging companies group at Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe, and his wife, Nancy Spangler, head of the firm’s Northern Virginia office, have thrown an annual Presidents’ Day party at their home in Potomac, Md. Corporate presidents, chief executive officers, angel investors, and the like are invited. There are no consultants and no lawyers — except of course for the hosts. “In ’96 we had a really big year for public offerings, and we wanted to do a kind of client appreciation,” Spangler says. Last year’s attendees included Doug Smith, founder of Omnipoint Inc.; Richard Faint Jr., CEO of the Sequoia Software Corp.; Scott Stauffer, CEO of Visual Networks Inc.; Loren Burnett, CEO of FutureNext Consulting Inc.; and early-stage investor Steve Walker — an enviable network built up over more than 20 years representing entrepreneurs and technology companies. Burnett, for instance, has been a client with three separate companies over the past decade. Martin started his legal career at Boston’s Hale and Dorr, and moved to Washington in 1981 to launch the firm’s D.C. outpost. Although it was the prestige of having a Washington office and not technology work that drew Hale and Dorr into the District, Martin soon determined the region was ripe for high-tech business. He began coaching emerging companies at an incubator started by the University of Maryland. In 1983, before most area lawyers had an inkling of the technology boom beginning outside the Beltway, Martin handled his first public offering for a local company — Entre Computer Centers based in Vienna, Va. He began representing Gaithersburg, Md.’s Genex Corp.; Vienna’s International TeleManagement; and Ray Ozzie, the software developer behind Lotus Notes. “In the late ’80s, this place started accelerating tremendously,” Martin says. “I started recognizing that we had a competitive advantage at Hale and Dorr in that we knew technology and we knew venture capital.” But as Martin’s local practice took off, he grew frustrated by what he felt was a lack of support from the firm’s management in Boston. Martin wanted to build the Washington office, but Hale and Dorr stuck to its traditional policies against hiring lateral partners. In addition, the firm maintained a referral relationship with D.C.’s Hogan & Hartson, which to Martin indicated that the office would never grow to more than a symbolic presence. In 1989, Martin left Hale and Dorr for the D.C. office of Philadelphia’s Pepper Hamilton. The move didn’t work out, however, and in 1992, he joined the D.C. office of Baltimore’s Piper & Marbury. “I wanted to go be part of a firm that had a platform and a real commitment to doing business law, not just regulatory law,” he says. Fifty-nine years old and a member of the executive committee at the newly merged Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe, Martin still takes time to meet with young entrepreneurs. His soft spot for the little guy, he says, stems from experience. To Martin, they are all potential superstar clients. Martin first represented James Rutt of Network Solutions Inc. in the dissolution of an earlier venture that never took off; now Piper regularly represents NSI. Omnipoint’s Smith took more than three years to find backing for his company and went on to become one of the firm’s top five clients for years. And there are countless similar stories — nearly one for every guest at his Presidents’ Day party. “I have an absolute commitment to taking chances,” Martin says. “I’m going to be less likely to turn people away.” JOHN SULLIVAN: TAKING A FLYER John Sullivan’s career was almost on the rocks. He thought he wanted to be a geologist. But in 1977, a chance meeting with Albert Turnbull, dean of admissions at University of Virginia’s Law School, convinced Sullivan to apply. “If you had told me I was going to grow up to be a corporate lawyer, I would have spit in your face,” says Sullivan, who has represented technology companies for 20 years. After graduating from UVA in 1980, Sullivan went to work for the D.C. office of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. As a young corporate associate, he traveled constantly to work on deals in other cities. But driving back and forth from the airport, Sullivan began to wonder about the businesses springing up along the Dulles Corridor. He grew convinced he could build a corporate practice based in the Washington region and spend less time on the road, away from his young family. In 1985, he joined Falls Church, Va.’s Hazel & Thomas. “I’ve always thought of myself as a lucky guy — who lucked into the Northern Virginia market before anyone knew it existed,” Sullivan says. “There was no prescience involved. I just got tired of airplanes.” At the time, such traditional D.C. firms as Covington & Burling; Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky; and Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand were abandoning Fairfax county offices. But Sullivan saw incredible potential for growth. He began working with Venture America, one of the first area venture funds to focus on early-stage technology companies. “Some of the clients were pretty flaky back then,” he concedes. “A lot of the companies we saw were just two scientists working in a lab.” Other start-ups were clearly poised for success. Through Venture America, Sullivan began representing fledgling companies like Bethesda, Md.’s Discovery Channel and Gaithersburg, Md.’s Digene Corp. Although Sullivan’s practice grew, Hazel & Thomas was hard hit by regional real estate woes in the early ’90s. Sullivan, by now a partner, began shopping around for his next move. He drew up a business plan for a high-tech boutique firm and pitched it to Richard Williamson, a former colleague at Hazel & Thomas who had recently joined D.C.’s Shaw Pittman. Instead, Williamson persuaded Sullivan to join Shaw Pittman. But Sullivan stayed only two years before growing frustrated by what he felt was the firm’s lack of focus on the McLean office. He moved to Venable’s Northern Virginia office in 1995. “John was certainly right in terms of what was going to happen,” says Shaw Pittman’s Meltzer about his brief intersection with Sullivan. “He kept telling me I had to move out to McLean.” That 47-year-old Sullivan has changed firms so frequently makes sense considering his approach to business. He clearly thrives in the fast-paced, constantly shifting world of his clients. His favorite companies have been the ones fast out of the gate and quick to market. Take Erols Internet. When Sullivan first came in to interview with founder Erol Onaran, the company had signed up just 20,000 customers. On the side, Onaran sold televisions and computers out of Erols’ leaky Springfield, Va., warehouse. Two years later with 300,000 subscribers, Erols was bought for more than $100 million. Lifeminders Inc. of Herndon, Va., is another Sullivan favorite. He took on the client in January 1999, helped raise some $35 million in three venture rounds and took the company public 10 months later. “That was fun,” Sullivan says. Like the others, Sullivan receives his share of headhunter calls — about three a week. He says he has been approached directly by about 25 law firms over the past two years. But if Sullivan leaves Venable — and he stresses if — it will not be for another law firm job. He does not rule out the possibility of one day leaving law to make a technology play of his own. “I’ve already had the experience of going to a law firm and building a practice from scratch,” Sullivan says. “I’d be interested in trying something completely new.” Nowadays, Hautman notes, that story might impress people. But not so at the time. “People thought I was crazy trying to build an intellectual property practice at a full-service firm,” he says. In 1986, the year Hautman first came up for partner consideration at Shaw Pittman, only two new partners were made, he recalls — both in the real estate group. And in 1992, according to Hautman, the technology practice failed to even warrant mention in Shaw Pittman’s strategic plan. “There was no respect for the emerging-technology business community,” Hautman says. “Immigration ranked higher as a strategic goal.” A Cincinnati native, Hautman joined Shaw Pittman in 1979 after graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law. While at UVA, Hautman had worked for the university legal adviser on intellectual property matters, which he enjoyed and hoped to pursue. But Hautman found little opportunity for an IP lawyer at a full-service firm. “IP lawyers were in boutique firms and they did litigation. I had no interest in becoming a litigator and spending my time fighting about the past,” he says. So Hautman set out to build a trademark practice at Shaw Pittman, working largely with Meltzer’s technology clients. The two attorneys worked closely together — offering clients a corporate and intellectual property team. For Hautman, they were formative years. Two experiences at Shaw Pittman, in particular, helped shape Hautman’s counsel to high-tech start-ups, he says. The first was VisiCalc. In the early 1980s, Shaw Pittman represented Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, two Boston programmers whom Forbes magazine calls “the real fathers of the personal computer revolution.” Their program — called VisiCalc, short for visible calculator — was the first spreadsheet program and the only useful reason for owning a PC. (Also on the VisiCalc team was Tracy Licklider, whose father, J.C.R. Licklider, led ARPANet in creating the primordial precursor to the Internet.) But things quickly got messy for VisiCalc when a dispute with the company it had licensed to sell its software ended in court. While the two factions fought over the rights to VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3 stole the market out from under them. “Whenever I sense a client is getting too greedy, I think of VisiCalc,” Hautman says. “You have to create alliances that are win-win situations.” The other turning point for Hautman was losing America Online’s IPO work to Mintz Levin — a huge letdown he blames on the firm’s weak relationship with then-chief executive officer James Kimsey. “It was an incredible moment for me, and I vowed I would never let it happen to me,” Hautman says. “I only bond with CEOs. That’s the way you keep clients.” Shortly after the AOL disappointment, Hautman left for Hogan & Hartson intent on creating a “Silicon Valley-style” practice serving emerging-technology companies in Northern Virginia. Today Hogan’s technology group numbers approximately 60 lawyers firmwide — about 20 in McLean. “I saw an opportunity for the future,” he says. “I knew eventually this region was going to explode.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.