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February 4, 2000
When hi-flying techies need advice...
In Silicon Valley, money continues pouring in in the billions and companies sprout up all over. And their needs go beyond angel investors and venture capitalists, to lawyers who review their business plans and, at times, introduce them to venture capitalists, help with capital structure and generally manage the legal side of their business.
Topping the list of law firms with such expertise is Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati, headquartered in Palo Alto.
Sanjiv Dhawan, 36, is a lawyer with this premier law firm serving the most successful and soon to be so of the companies that are making up the hi-tech gold rush. The list of clients reads like a Who's Who of the hi-tech field and includes Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, Sequoia Capital, Mayfield Fund, Goldman Sachs & Co., Hewlett Packard Company, Sun Microsystems, InfoSpace, C|Net, CommerceOne, Juniper Networks, 3Com Corporation, Disney Online.
The feverish pitch of the hi-tech activity in the Valley translates into long hours of work for lawyers all across the valley but even more so at Wilson Sonsini. Typically, Dhawan works 12 to 15 hour days and often takes work home. While his schedule is hectic, Dhawan's sense of overwhelming optimism about the hi-tech industries he serves keeps him motivated.
It is yet another Monday morning and the garage opens with an annoying creak as Dhawan backs slowly out of his driveway attached to his "overpriced new house" in Menlo Park. Cell phone firmly planted against his head and one eye focused on the road, he makes his way to the office which is just minutes away. He listens carefully to the 10 or so messages that have arrived just between dawn and 8.30 am. These messages set the stage for a day like most others that is densely packed with financing deals and just about everything else that hi-tech firms crave from a lawyer and business advisor.
Dhawan has been practising law now for about a decade. In his profession, he is a racial minority, but with the clients he represents he shares a heritage and culture that is more than coincidence.
As Dhawan comments, "It is in fact indicative of the ingenuity, ambition and sheer will to succeed that is emerging as part of the overall character of south Asian entrepreneurs."
His client base may consist at any one time of 30 or more clients, 60-70 per cent of whom are either started by entrepreneurs of south Asian descent or have an individual of such descent playing a prominent role in the growth of the enterprise.
With $ 3.4 billion of venture capital pouring into the coffers of ambitious start-ups in the third quarter of 1999 alone, the flames of ingenuity and success are being well-fanned, thank you, says Dhawan.
His client base ranges from networking and communications hardware and services companies like NonStopNet, ArtInsider.com, GeoTouch.com and IndiaPlaza.com and several computer hardware firms and biotechnology companies.
Dhawan started his legal career at the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco where he quickly rose to the position of Chief of the Civil Division of Court. He left the West Coast and joined the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington DC as a senior counsel. After a stint there, he moved back to the West Coast and joined the corporate law firm of Wise and Shepherd LLP based in Silicon Valley. It was here that he learnt all about the intricate ins and outs of deal-making in the valley.
"I first educate myself about my clients' various businesses enough to understand what is really important to them and what, in my experience, should be important to them," he says. "I try to develop a working relationship that engenders a friendship and a resulting confidence that takes my practice beyond that of service provider to one of business advisor and partner playing a vital role in business and capital structure."
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