To get in, your name has to be on the guest list, which has been known to fill up weeks in advance. Even so, people just show up and mill about on the off chance that a much-coveted spot becomes available. But these hot spots aren’t popular new nightclubs or trendy restaurants—they’re law offices. With all the buzz surrounding recent IPOs for social networking companies like LinkedIn Corp., the seemingly endless proliferation of mobile app startups, and a series of blockbuster patent deals involving corporate titans like Google Inc., Silicon Valley is hot again. As a result, seemingly humdrum events, which range from networking receptions for entrepreneurs and investors to workshops about preparing for an IPO, have evolved into coveted gatherings with many of the valley’s high-profile law firms playing host. “These events represent the real ethos of Silicon Valley,” says Craig Jacoby, chair of Cooley’s emerging company group. “People are happy to get together and share information, and we’re happy to provide space for this to happen.”
“The tech industry depends on these events,” adds Palo Alto–based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati partner Donna Petkanics. “They are part of the infrastructure of lawyers, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs that has allowed the industry to grow and become so successful.” Petkanics says that Wilson Sonsini typically hosts four to five events, usually held at night, each week in its office on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. One recent event was a panel discussion about the burgeoning 3D printing industry.
For law firms, the benefits of hosting such events is obvious. “You can walk across the hall, and there is a room full of clients and referrals,” says Robert Kahn, Fenwick & West’s chief marketing officer. In recent months the firm’s downtown Mountain View offices have hosted events organized by the Churchill Club, a Silicon Valley business association, and the Jewish High Tech Community and Watermark, a women’s networking organization. Kahn says that Fenwick & West gets more requests than it can accommodate so the firm tends to throw events that have a strong connection to Fenwick’s attorneys and clients.
While this arrangement might not work for firms in other parts of the country, it’s a perfect fit for the roles that firms play in the tech-rich Valley. “Law firms are a critical part of the start-up ecosystems. They’re connecting with company entrepreneurs to create founder agreements, set up stock options, and deal with intellectual property issues,” says Chris Gill, chief executive officer of SVForum, a tech industry association teams up with law firms for events.
And just why are these firm-hosted events so popular? “I’ve discovered that clients and prospective clients love to pepper lawyers with questions when they aren’t on the clock,” says Cooley’s Jacoby.