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ChatGPT Creator OpenAI Bolsters Legal Ranks as Issues Grow

Dec. 23, 2022, 10:30 AM

OpenAI Inc., the company behind popular new artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT, has roughly doubled the size of its small in-house legal team in recent months.

A handful of lawyers and at least one legal operations professional have been hired by OpenAI this year, according to public records, social media profiles, and state bar registries. The new additions mostly come from other technology companies, such as Amazon.com Inc., Instacart Inc., and Slack Technologies Inc.

OpenAI declined to discuss the hires. A spokeswoman said the San Francisco-based company’s team is “winding down” for the year.

The chatbot has taken social media and Silicon Valley by storm with its conversational abilities, prompting speculation it could challenge Alphabet Inc.’s Google as a model for online search. ChatGPT’s success following its public debut this month reportedly has OpenAI expecting to book $1 billion in revenue by 2024.

ChatGPT has retained Morrison & Foerster and California litigation boutique Durie Tangri—two firms set to merge Jan. 1—to represent it in a copyright infringement lawsuit filed last month against the company and Microsoft Corp.’s GitHub. That case, in which GitHub is being represented by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, could pose novel questions for AI-generated intellectual property.

A MoFo spokeswoman declined to comment about the law firm’s work for OpenAI. OpenAI’s general counsel, former Goodwin Procter associate Jason Kwon, did not respond to a comment request.

Goodwin is also a top legal adviser to OpenAI, which is structured as a nonprofit artificial intelligence research organization with a for-profit arm called OpenAI LP. The law firm handled OpenAI’s investment last month in audio and video editing software startup Descript Inc., which is reportedly valued at a $550 million.

Goodwin was also paid more than $210,000 in legal fees by OpenAI’s nonprofit arm during fiscal 2019, according to the organization’s most recent US federal tax filing. San Francisco’s Adler & Colvin, a firm specializing in nonprofit work, received more than $220,000 in legal fees from OpenAI that same year.

OpenAI’s CEO, Samuel Altman, is a former president of Y Combinator, a startup accelerator where Kwon was general counsel prior to joining OpenAI last year. Altman and Elon Musk—head of Tesla Inc. and Twitter Inc.—teamed up to launch OpenAI in 2015. Musk resigned from OpenAI’s board in 2018 to focus on Tesla and his privately held rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Legal Recruits

Kwon is now head of an OpenAI legal team whose former general counsel, David Lansky, left last year. Lansky landed a new job this month as the first-ever general counsel for Convergent Research, a nonprofit backed by a philanthropic organization started by billionaire former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

The legal team Lansky left behind has continued to grow.

OpenAI’s most recent legal addition, associate general counsel Ashley Pantuliano, was hired in November after serving as head of legal for Loom Inc., a workplace video messaging platform that quadrupled its valuation last year to $1.5 billion. Pantuliano previously spent five years as a head product counsel at Dropbox Inc.

OpenAI also hired Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom associate Yuyi “Lisa” Pan as senior tax counsel in August after picking up former Instacart labor lawyer Miguel Manriquez as its head of labor and employment in July.

Jacob Berdine, a former corporate counsel at Amazon Web Services, joined OpenAI in June as a senior product counsel. OpenAI also added head of commercial legal Sheila Dunning earlier this year from Synack Inc., a cybersecurity startup.

Adam Nace, a former head of legal operations at Slack, joined OpenAI in the same role in February. OpenAI’s in-house legal ranks also include deputy general counsel Che Chang, hired last year from Amazon, and former policy and governance counsel-turned-research scientist Cullen O’Keefe.

ChatGPT had little to share about the new hires at the company behind the chatbot.

“I am not able to provide information about the number of lawyers that OpenAI employs or works with, as I am an AI language model and do not have access to information about the company’s personnel or business practices,” said ChatGPT, when queried about the moves.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com