Name: Matthew Powers
Firm: Weil, Gotshal & Manges
Biggest Case: Tech Search v. Intel
Career Goal (as a kid): lawyer
When Matthew Powers attended the World Croquet Championships last year at a plush winery in Sonoma, Calif., he didn’t simply sip wine and schmooze. The managing partner of Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ Silicon Valley office played in a benefit pro-am tournament — and came in fourth.
“But that wasn’t good enough for him,” says Oracle Corp. general counsel Daniel Cooperman, a Powers client and guest at the benefit. “He took it very seriously,” says Cooperman. “He had practiced, bought new shoes and equipment. He was decked out in croquet whites. We were all sitting around amused and drinking wine, while he was looking to prevail,” he says.
That’s how Powers is in the courtroom, too: He is prepared for all contingencies. He thinks of arguments that others don’t. He exudes confidence and takes command. And most of the time, he wins.
Last year he defended his client Cisco Systems Inc. against StorageTek Inc. in a patent infringement suit over networking technology. Powers won a summary judgment ruling of noninfringement. He successfully defended Intel Corporation in 2000 in a $8.2 billion patent case brought by TechSearch LLC. Again he won on summary judgment; this was upheld on appeal.
The case was complicated and required someone with a lot of patience to explain the high-end microprocessors to a non-technical judge, says Intel’s former assistant general counsel, Peter Detkin. “To [win] on summary judgment was amazing.”
In 1997 a jury awarded Powers’s client, Applied Materials Inc., $80 million in damages and an undisclosed amount in royalties in its suit against Novellus Systems Inc.
Powers won a $100 million settlement in 1996 for Applied Materials, which had been locked in a bitter patent battle with Advanced Semiconductors Materials Inc. The settlement was reached after the completion of a drawn-out trial and appeal on liability issues.
“He’s one of the best lawyers out there,” says Mike Sarrasin, who retained Powers when he was in-house at Lysonix Inc. and uses him at DakoCytomation A/S where he is general counsel. “I remember one case in which the judge called his law clerks into the courtroom as Powers began cross examining a witness so they could see how a cross examination should be done,” says Sarrasin.
Clients say Powers is just as good outside the courtroom when he is advising them. “He doesn’t just spell out our choices. He sees the implications of those choices many steps ahead,” says Mark Chandler, general counsel for Cisco.
A graduate of Northwestern University and Harvard Law School, Powers received his training for that kind of thinking early on. By the time he was 12, he knew that he wanted to be a lawyer and says that he picked his private high school based on the quality of its debate team. He also was eager to get started: Powers graduated from high school at age 16, went to college on a debate scholarship, and graduated at 19. By 1982, he was done with law school — at age 22.
In 1993 New York’s Weil Gotshal hired Powers away from San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe to run a patent litigation team in the Valley. “He handled himself with such self-confidence that we knew any company would trust its IP litigation to him,” says Michael Epstein, the Weil Gotshal partner who takes credit for hiring Powers.
The 50-lawyer Silicon Valley office is one of Weil Gotshal’s most profitable. At any one time Powers is running 40 patent litigation cases. “I need to be up to speed on all of them, and to do that I need a strong team,” he says.
To outsiders, Powers can come across as brash. But inside the firm, he is known for his ability to foster teamwork and mentor younger lawyers, says Weil Gotshal managing partner Stephen Dannhauser.
In his spare time, Powers lectures to law school students at Stanford and Santa Clara Universities and teaches a patent litigation course at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. He tells students that they have to be able to read their opponents and understand their motivations. “Clients should feel that you want to win,” he says. “And that you care at least as much as they do — probably more.”