Representing Softbank, defending voting rights and investing in DC regulatory work - not bad for a firm led by someone who "watched far too much Perry Mason."
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position?
Craig Martin: We had a great 2017, which was driven by exceptional demand in both our litigation and transactional practices. A common theme to that success was our work on a variety of technology and life sciences matters. We were able to translate those results into good momentum in 2018, which is consistent with our long term strategy.
CA: And what is your long term strategy?
CM: There are a few elements to it. We are looking to build on our practice strengths and also leverage our market-leading positions in the Bay Area and in Japan. That has meant building on our capabilities there and in other key geographies, while ultimately looking to remain a leading global law firm for technology companies.
CA: Are there any broad trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in your firm's practices?
CM: I’d say there have been surges of demand related to technology matters or technology companies. For example, we have been representing Sprint and SoftBank in the Sprint/T-Mobile merger. We represented SoftBank in its investment in Uber. We’ve been advising Alibaba regarding a $14 billion financing. We’ve been assisting GLP in establishing a $2 billion fund in China with a Singaporean sovereign wealth fund. We’ve represented Walmart in a new credit card program agreement with Capital One. And we’ve been representing Wells Fargo in the $1.5 billion construction loan for Hudson Yards.
On the litigation side, we defended Uber in its trade secrets dispute with Waymo, Google’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary. And we secured a unanimous jury verdict for Sandoz in a dispute over biosimilars. For our firm, there’s certainly a trend toward active matters on behalf of companies who are involved with technology or life sciences and that’s really continued and fueled our growth.
"Geographically, we’ve invested quite a bit in our DC office in recent years in trying to stay ahead of our clients’ regulatory requirements."
CA: Which practices and offices have you earmarked for growth over the next year and why?
CM: We hope to maintain a good balance among our practices and geographies. We are also looking to further build out our very strong M&A, IP litigation, privacy, investigations, and restructuring practices. Additionally, we invested heavily in 2018 in our national security and financial technology practices, so we expect that would continue.
Geographically, we’ve invested quite a bit in our DC office in recent years in trying to stay ahead of our clients’ regulatory requirements. In San Francisco, our largest office, we’re continuing to expand capabilities both in technology and other sectors. We’re also adding strengths in Asia, with Tokyo being a place where we are by far the largest international firm, and looking to grow our capabilities in London and Berlin.
CA: Can you tell us more about MoFo’s commitment to pro bono matters?
CM: We continue to reinforce the importance of an ongoing pro bono commitment, both internally and within our peer firms. That has remained very important to us, notwithstanding how busy we’ve been on the transactional and litigation front. Our firm has continued to advocate for the professional and ethical obligation to maintain a strong pro bono practice. We’ve also tried to lead by example. We have led ongoing defenses of reproductive rights in Texas and Louisiana where those states have created medically unnecessary regulations that are intended to essentially interfere with women and their ability to obtain abortions. We’ve been involved in litigation to enforce voting rights in California and North Carolina and have brought a suit against Georgia to enforce a safe voting system that isn’t susceptible to hacking. We’ve been involved in representing the detained parents of children who’ve been separated. And we won the first ever grant of asylum in Japan for an individual who’d been persecuted for their sexual orientation.
"...a rapidly changing regulatory environment that’s somewhat driven by the volatile political situation here in the United States."
CA: How do you think the legal industry has evolved over recent years?
CM: There’s obviously a rapidly changing regulatory environment that’s somewhat driven by the volatile political situation here in the United States. That has informed much of the investment we’ve made in our DC regulatory practice in the last few years. The rapid growth of technology has also presented our clients with situations in which there isn’t necessarily a clear guiding law in how to proceed. Additionally, clients are dealing with ethical issues, so helping them to navigate that has been important for us and I assume for most firms.
CA: Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
CM: I watched far too much Perry Mason, a TV show in the 1950’s and 60’s about a lawyer. Every week he seemed to have a blockbuster trial that ended up being decided by a surprise witness who burst into the courtroom at the last possible moment. It could not be more different from my practice today, but that was a big motivator to getting me interested in the law.
"I personally put a thumb on the scale for considering who your future colleagues are going to be."
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
CM: I would say to trust their instincts and not to underestimate the importance of the quality of the people with whom they choose to associate themselves when they’re making career decisions. When I came to Morrison & Foerster, I have to admit, I was not particularly sophisticated about what practice area I wanted to be in or the strengths of the firm, but I very quickly learned that I was dealing with people who had high integrity and who were respectful and very smart. I made career decisions based, in large part, on those factors both initially in choosing to come here and then to stay here. I've been very well served by that. So I think it’s important for people to do their homework about firms and other professional opportunities they may have over the years, but I personally put a thumb on the scale for considering who your future colleagues are going to be.
Interview conducted by Leah Henderson. First published January 2019.