Steve Wernikoff

The strategy behind some Big Law hires are easier to explain than others. Consider Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn’s addition this week of Steven Wernikoff among them.

Wernikoff is a 17-year veteran of the Federal Trade Commission, where he most recently served as enforcement director for the agency’s Office of Technology Research and Investigation, a division focused on new technologies such as data collection and autonomous vehicles.

At Honigman, a Detroit-based Am Law 200 firm with deep ties to auto manufacturers and equipment suppliers, Chicago-based Wernikoff will co-chair the firm’s just-launched autonomous vehicle group, as well as its cybersecurity and privacy practice. He will help clients navigate new rules related to self-driving cars, such as how they can collect and share data.

“Autonomous vehicle technology really is outpacing existing laws and regulations,” Wernikoff said. “The auto industry is developing to include the whole smart infrastructure; involving mapping, geolocation [and] communications technologies, and each of those items has legal and regulatory implications.”

Honigman CEO David Foltyn said in a statement that the firm’s new practice will formalize an area that it has already done a significant amount of work. For instance, the firm has defended clients involved with autonomous vehicle-related patent infringement cases; has prosecuted patents for autonomous vehicle technologies; and has worked on the creation of a research-and-development testing facility for autonomous vehicles.

“Steve’s exceptional experience and reputation position us to even better serve our clients as they navigate an ever-evolving digital and technological marketplace,” Foltyn said.

Wernikoff worked for about three years at Jenner & Block in Chicago before joining the FTC’s regional outpost in the Windy City. He is Honigman’s latest hire in Chicago, where the firm opened an office in 2015 after absorbing local litigation boutique Schopf & Weiss. Since then, Honigman’s Chicago office has grown from about 15 lawyers to just shy of 30. Last month Honigman announced that it would lease about 28,000 square feet of space at a new building in Chicago, allowing it to house roughly double the number of lawyers as its former home.

Honigman is not the first Big Law firm to launch an autonomous cars practice. DLA Piper has one, and Wernikoff will also be facing some competition in Chicago from Jonathan Judge of Schiff Hardin, a self-taught data whiz who creates statistics for Major League Baseball and uses data modeling to explain why driverless cars make the choices they make. In California, Morrison & Foerster has found itself in the middle of a heated trade secrets dispute between ride-sharing giant Uber Technologies Inc. and Waymo LLC, an affiliate of Google parent Alphabet Inc.

Roy Strom, based in Chicago, covers the business of law with a focus on how law firm business models are changing. He can be reached at On Twitter: @RoyWStrom