The Big Interview: Doug Clark, Wilson Sonsini managing partner

Doug Clark may be the managing partner of a Silicon valley firm that represents Google and Twitter, but he still thinks technology has "sterilized the practice of law."

Doug Clark Winson Sonsini (1)Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?

Doug Clark: As you know, our firm is focused on representing technology and life sciences companies and the ecosystem that surrounds them. The past year has been strong and consistent with what’s been going on in the client markets. In particular we’ve had a good year in capital markets, including a robust IPO year in the U.S. and in China. In addition, 2018 was a strong year for litigation. A couple of other technologically-driven practices that have and will continue to have strong performance are cybersecurity, cryptocurrency, and blockchain.

CA: Are there any broader trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in your firm’s practice?

DC: As we look ahead we’re being particularly affected by macro trends like fluctuations in the capital markets and how they influence IPOs. The dimension of our China practice has changed due to trade war issues, shifting from M&A to IPOs. Like every other business, we are very much in a global economy.

"We don’t grow through lateral partner hires, instead we’re promoting aggressively and growing organically."

Are there any recent developments you’d like our readers to know about?

DC: It’s been a year of strong growth, not just in revenue but in headcount. We’ve promoted 16 partners, which is very healthy for us and a reflection of our strong associate base. A lot of the growth we’ve had is foundational; we don’t grow through lateral partner hires, instead we’re promoting aggressively and growing organically.

CA: Which practices/sector focuses/offices have you earmarked for growth over the next year and why?

DC: We have tremendous visibility on high levels of litigation and regulatory work, both of which accrue matters that will last for significant periods of time. Public financings are more market-driven than private ones, but the strength of our two principal client industries gives us confidence that our success will continue.

CA:What do you hope the firm will look like in five years' time?

DC: I have confidence that we’re in the right places and that we have the right footprint internationally, with particular focus on Brussels and China. We also have a number of initiatives to incorporate advanced technology into our service offerings and make it available to our clients.

"If you enjoy working with very smart people it’s a terrific profession."

How do you think the profession has changed since you started out practicing as a lawyer?

DC: The introduction of technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) has had tremendous benefits, but it has also sterilized the practice of law. More communication takes place electronically rather than face to face, which leads to a certain amount of depersonalization. The practice itself is more sophisticated and interesting, but there’s also more pricing pressure and the competition is far stronger. It’s no different to any other business, but the expectation of an instant response does put a burden on lawyers.

CA: Why is law an attractive profession for students to join today?

DC: It’s still a compelling intellectual profession and at its best, it’s highly collaborative. If you enjoy working with very smart people it’s a terrific profession.

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?

DC: The job requires a tremendous amount of hard work so you need to be passionate and ensure that passion is aligned with your career choice. I’d also encourage lawyers to be experts in the details of what they do when they’re young, because it provides a strong foundation for having good reflexes and instincts.

First published in March 2019. Interview by senior researcher Laura Bishop.

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