Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati announced Tuesday that corporate partner Katharine “Katie” Martin would take over as chair of the firm’s board in a leadership change that will also keep longtime leader Larry Sonsini in an active role as senior and founding partner.
Martin, who works out of Palo Alto, will step into leadership immediately after the firm said she was elected to head Wilson Sonsini’s 10-member board, which serves as its governing body. Going forward, Wilson Sonsini will no longer have a “firm chairman”—the position that Sonsini long held—as that role has been replaced with a new leadership structure that puts Martin as chair of a governing board that will set the firm’s strategic direction in close collaboration with the firm’s managing partner, Douglas Clark, and practice leaders.
In a statement, Sonsini described Martin as a “dear friend” and the “ideal partner” to step into leadership. Martin joined Wilson Sonsini in 1999 from what is now known as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. During her time at the firm, she has counted as clients well-known technology companies such as LinkedIn Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Twitter Inc. Among various other matters, Martin served in a lead role on the Wilson Sonsini team that advised LinkedIn last year on its $26.2 billion sale to Microsoft Corp.
“Katie is one of the most accomplished advisers in the technology industry,” said Sonsini, who spent more than 35 years as chairman at Wilson Sonsini. “We have worked closely together for nearly 20 years and I, and the rest of the partnership, greatly value her judgment, character and leadership. As we continue to build our management team for the future, I have no doubt that Katie’s board leadership will help the firm continue to advance in all respects.”
Martin said in an interview Tuesday that she intends to bring a collaborative approach to the leadership role, and to carry on a tradition set by Sonsini, who maintained an active practice in addition to his firm leadership responsibilities. Martin also said she plans to continue advising clients and is looking forward to mentorship from Sonsini after his long-tenured stewardship of the firm.
“This is a great growth opportunity for me personally … for me to really now be in a position to be mentored by Larry in this significant leadership role,” Martin said.
The firm’s leadership change comes after a spate of recent partner departures from Wilson Sonsini, including Larry Sonsini’s son, Matthew Sonsini, who returned to the firm last year before leaving for a second time in early September to pursue other endeavors. Michael Rubin, co-chair of Wilson Sonsini’s privacy and data protection practice, recently joined Latham & Watkins in San Francisco, while former CFO Sunil Bhardwaj left Wilson Sonsini in January.
In an interview Tuesday, however, Larry Sonsini said that his firm’s new leadership structure had nothing to do with partner hirings or departures, which he said are part of “the nature of the legal industry today.”
Instead, he said, the firm recognized that a leadership model based on a single chairman didn’t make as much sense anymore, given Wilson Sonsini’s recent growth, along with changes in the legal industry and the demands of clients. And those changes, Sonsini said, are likely to continue. Wilson Sonsini expects to cross the $1 billion annual gross revenue mark within the next five years and could grow to 1,000 lawyers over that period, up from the roughly 800 lawyers it has now.
Sonsini also stressed that the leadership change shouldn’t be viewed as a sign that he’s going anywhere.
“This is going to really free me up to focus on our brand and our revenue and our global reach, and at the same time put me in a position to be an adviser to Katie,” Sonsini said. “This is not me stepping back from the practice; this is not me taking more time to play golf. What we’re talking about is re-positioning.”