Winston & Strawn's eDiscovery Review Center at their Washington, D.C. office. February 1, 2016. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL.
Winston & Strawn’s Washington, D.C., office. (Diego M. Radzinschi)

Longtime Fish & Richardson litigator Katherine Vidal is leaving the intellectual property-centric firm to spearhead Winston & Strawn’s ambitions in Silicon Valley.

Kathi Vidal.

Vidal will join 800-lawyer Winston as managing partner of its Menlo Park, California, office and is expected to become a member of the firm’s executive committee. Vidal said she will miss Fish after 20 years at the firm’s Silicon Valley office, but is determined to do big things at Winston, a global full-service firm that’s a relatively new entrant to the region.

“Silicon Valley is its own culture. You can’t import that culture and that thinking,” Vidal said in an interview. “I don’t think it works for companies. I don’t think it works for startups. I don’t think it works for law firms.”

Vidal was the head of Fish’s 270-lawyer litigation group and served on the firm’s management committee from 2007 to 2011. She is the latest high-profile Fish partner to join Winston this year. Thomas Melsheimer, the managing partner of Fish’s Dallas office, left with eight other partners to co-found Winston’s Dallas office along with partners from seven other law firms in February.

Winston opened its Silicon Valley office in 2013 but has staffed it lightly, mostly with attorneys who split time among other Winston offices. “Kathi is truly the Silicon Valley leader that Winston has been seeking since we opened the office,” firm co-executive chairman Dan Webb said in a press release. Firm chairman Thomas Fitzgerald said she brings “a strong local client base and reputation for embracing and cultivating diverse talent.”

Lisa Buccino, a director of global litigation at SAP AG who has worked with Vidal on a variety of matters, described her as responsive, strategic and good at managing personalities. All of that should serve Vidal well in a leadership role in an intensely competitive market, she said. “While it sounds like a challenge, I think it’s a real natural fit,” Buccino said. “She’s always been one to break the mold.”

Vidal has recently represented companies including PayPal, VMware and The Chamberlain Group in district court, at the International Trade Commission, before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, where she once clerked for Judge Alvin Schall. Vidal also is on the law firm advisory board of ChIPs, an organization dedicated to advancing women in technology law, and until last year served on the Northern District of California’s patent rules committee.

Vidal said a client suggested earlier this year that she consider joining a different law firm. Melsheimer’s group, whom she thinks highly of, joined Winston at around the same time. “I thought, ‘Obviously, there’s something at Winston I need to look at.” She hit it off with Fitzgerald, Webb and other Winston leaders, including Chicago managing partner Linda Coberly and Houston trial attorney Paula Hinton, among others.

“I feel that my goals and values are aligned with Winston,” Vidal said. “Sometimes the lightbulb just goes on.”

Fish’s 350 lawyers focus almost exclusively on intellectual property. The firm has 12 offices, including one overseas outpost in Munich. The firm reported profits per equity partner of $1.6 million in 2016. Winston offers a spectrum of corporate and litigation practices from offices across the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Vidal said she’ll miss the people and the IP culture at Fish & Richardson. “That’s what prevented me from looking for the last 20 years,” she said. But at Winston “I’ll still be surrounded by some of the best IP litigators in the nation” while drawing on “energy from other practice groups around the world.”

She said she welcomes the opportunity, and the challenge, of building out a nonindigenous law firm in the hyper-competitive Valley. “We can really do something big in Silicon Valley,” she said. “I think we’re going to do in Silicon Valley what’s been difficult to do.”