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‘Definitely more interest in the EU’ – OC’s Silicon Valley head talks San Francisco launch and US strategy

Building on its existing offices in the Silicon Valley and New York, Osborne Clarke (OC) is rolling out its strategy of providing European legal advice to digital businesses in the US with the launch of a new San Francisco base, which office head Steve Wilson says will help the firm engrain itself in the area’s budding digital business community.

The new office, which is effectively a branch of OC’s well-established Silicon Valley base, is in San Francisco’s south of market street (SoMa) neighbourhood and will be staffed by existing lawyers from the Silicon Valley office on a rotating basis.

The top 30 UK firm – which already counts as clients San Francisco online accommodation rental company AirBNB, social game services provider Zynga, and content delivery network CloudFlare – will provide access to European legal advice either on the ground in accordance with the specialisms of its US-based lawyers, or by connecting clients with the rest of Osborne Clarke offices around Europe.

It follows a tried and tested formula. OC launched its Silicon Valley office in 2001 to build links with technology and venture capital clients, and last October announced the opening of a branch in New York’s creative and digital district of Soho to primarily provide UK legal advice to European clients who have moved into New York, or US clients looking to position themselves in Europe as well as developing relationships with investors.

Legal Business asks Wilson (pictured), who heads both OC’s Silicon Valley and SoMa offices and has been based at the firm’s Palo Alto arm for seven years, for the inside track on the US offices.

Why San Francisco?

‘In the last few years SoMa has grown up to be the preferred location for a lot of entrepreneurs and growth businesses. Part of that is caused by a lot of younger engineers and computer scientists wanting to live and work in San Francisco rather than out in Silicon Valley.

‘The drive for us was that a lot of our contacts, clients and target clients are based in SoMa and having an office there will help us to really engrain ourselves in the local business community in the same way that we have done in Silicon Valley over the course of the last 14 years.

‘Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati have an office based in SoMa, which reflects the interest in that part of the market.’

How will it work?

‘It is effectively a branch office of the Silicon Valley office and it will be staffed most days each week, but not necessarily by the same person, we’re going to alternate existing lawyers.

‘It provides a foothold in the local area, where we hope to line up meetings every week and help us to settle in the area.’

What’s the strategy going forward?

‘We are already working with a number of clients there, including AirBNB, Zinga and CloudFlare, which is looking to be a really big company in the future. The area is a real hotbed of new innovation; lots of start-ups.

‘We’re looking to build our presence out there in terms of reputation, the best way to do that is by continuing to work with clients that we work with and ensuring that they continue to have an interest in the European market. As the economy improves out there and there’s talk of more technology bubbles, we very much hope to be able to support the right type of businesses and use our expertise in digital business to help them launch their business over here.’

How well have the US offices done so far?

”Upwards trend’ is the best way of describing the US business. The way we’ve developed it is twofold. Firstly, it really is down to economic conditions; the last few years have been difficult for everyone but during that time we have really developed some good relationships, so in the last couple of years we’ve seen a significant upward turn in terms of companies that we’ve supported particularly in their inward investment into the UK.

‘We have advised around 500 US businesses since the [Silicon Valley] office has been open, and I’ve definitely experienced more interest in the EU market in the last couple of years.