Mitchell Zuklie, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe chairman
Mitchell Zuklie, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe chairman (S. Todd Rogers / The Recorder)

It’s been one year since Mitchell Zuklie took the reins at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe from longtime chairman Ralph Baxter Jr. So far, he’s ushered the firm through closely watched (but ultimately dropped) merger talks with California neighbor Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, while maintaining a corporate practice focused on some of the Valley’s hottest tech companies.

Q: What’s been your highest priority since becoming chairman?

A: I’ve been focused on two priorities. The first is to refresh our long-term strategy and make sure we have consensus on it. We’re focused on building on our practice strengths in three sectors: energy and infrastructure, finance and technology. And, we’re continuing to grow our litigation and IP practice. My second priority has been to continue to strengthen our culture. Firms compete on culture, and our culture is an asset that we need to constantly pay attention to.

Q: You’ve continued to practice. Why?

A: It’s what I love. I wake up in the morning excited to help entrepreneurs. There are differing views on this, but I believe that my practice helps me in my role as a firm leader—understanding the market and client expectations, understanding the opportunities and pressures our partners face.

Q: Most recently, you and your colleagues advised Nest Labs on its sale to Google. Any good stories from the deal talks?

A: The deal was high speed and high energy throughout the holidays­—and we announced right after the New Year. Tony Fadell, Matt Rogers, Tom vonReichbauer, Chip Lutton and the rest of the Nest team never lost sight of their primary motivation: the belief that Nest’s mission to change the world, one cool smart device at a time, would be accelerated on the Google platform.

Q: Law professor Steven Davidoff wrote recently in the New York Times that the Nest deal illustrates “scarily high valuations” in Silicon Valley. What’s your take?

A: The Nest sale came on the heels of several “billion-dollar” sales for our clients, including Instagram’s sale to Facebook and Yammer’s sale to Microsoft. These valuations certainly indicate that the race for innovation and market share in high-tech is as intense as ever. Couple that with the fact that most of the serial acquirers in Silicon Valley are sitting on huge sums of cash, which they’re willing to deploy to take a chance on acquiring a competitive advantage, and we have the makings of an interesting market. I think we’ll see billion-dollar valuations with greater frequency, but my experience is that buyers generally remain disciplined and only pay top dollar in very unique circumstances.

Q: Orrick has engaged in several merger discussions over the years. What is your firm looking for?

A: We’re going to pursue growth that supports our strategy—not growth as a strategy. We’re looking for opportunities to build on our three sector strengths: energy and infrastructure, financial services and technology. Most of our growth will be organic. Occasionally, a bigger opportunity will come along, and we will look at it. The bar will be very high in terms of practice and cultural fit—and we’re going to remain disciplined about that.

Q: You’ve acknowledged that Orrick has struggled at times to communicate its strengths. What’s the biggest misconception about the firm?

A: Because we were a first mover in terms of client service innovation, I think in some places we are better known for that than our top-tier practices.

Q: You’re one of the few law firm chairmen that uses Twitter. Why do you think it’s important?

A: Twitter is just another way of building community. I’ve had a lot of fun using Twitter to highlight results of our team and congratulating clients and friends on their achievements. I still get a kick every time someone retweets me or responds to a tweet.

Q: Your Twitter profile identifies you as a “novice boxer.” Explain.

A: I started boxing about two years ago. I try to train at least once a week and drill once a week. While it’s very humbling, I enjoy it.