After two decades in private practice, Peter Buckland is looking for the next big thing.
And if he finds it, the veteran Silicon Valley lawyer will reap more than he ever could billing by the hour. Buckland, a vice chair of the corporate practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and co-chair of the firm’s emerging company practice, recently put Big Law behind him to become a general partner and COO at Khosla Ventures, the venture capital firm controlled by billionaire investor Vinod Khosla.
“I had as good of a gig at Wilmer as you can have at a law firm. I was spending about 50% of my time on business development and interacting with entrepreneurs and founders,” Buckland told Bloomberg Law. “Maybe it was a mid-life crisis, but I had this itch that I wanted to do something else. I worked with a bunch of great venture funds over my career, and I knew the KV guys, so when they reached out I wanted to find out more about this new role.”
Buckland joined the Menlo Park, California-based firm earlier this month, right around the time he celebrated his 50th birthday. At Khosla Ventures he will focus on fundraising, but Buckland said he does not expect to be sourcing deals in the “near- to medium-term.” The process for courting investments from limited partners that are the backbone of any venture capital firm is not unlike that of a lawyer soliciting business from potential clients, he said. Buckland said his position as a general partner is also roughly equivalent to that of an equity partner at a law firm.
“Coming aboard as a general partner was key, not just from an economic perspective, but moving into a role where I would have [the authority] to make important decisions,” said Buckland, who joined Khosla Ventures eight months after the departure of its former managing director Keith Rabois.
Buckland said his hire was unrelated to the exit of Rabois, a former Sullivan & Cromwell associate-turned-entrepreneur, whom he called a “significant player” in the Silicon Valley investment world and one far removed from that of a lawyer like himself looking to transition into a business-side role. (Rabois is now a general partner at Founders Fund, a venture capital firm backed by several of his former PayPal colleagues, including billionaire Peter Thiel, who also began his career at Sullivan & Cromwell.)
At Khosla Ventures, the in-house legal work will continue to be done by general counsel John Demeter, a former colleague of Buckland’s at Wilmer. Buckland was the relationship partner for Wilmer’s work with Khosla Ventures. The firm, formed in 2004, primarily invests in experimental technologies in the biomedical, energy, and robotics sectors. Khosla, its namesake and founder, co-founded Sun Microsystems Inc. and once served as a general partner at storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.
Among the expertise Buckland hopes to bring to his new role is a front-row seat to the changes roiling the legal industry. Buckland joined Wilmer’s Palo Alto office in 2005 from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, where he fled two years prior following the collapse of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, a high-flying, San Francisco-based outfit that went bust when the dot-com bubble burst.
As a Brobeck associate, Buckland routinely cranked out up to 20 initial public offerings per year for technology companies like Polycom Inc. and Synaptics Inc. Brobeck’s subsequent demise and diaspora sprinkled alumni throughout Silicon Valley, as well as conditioned Buckland to the abrupt rise-and-fall of many startup companies.
Today, rather than race toward an IPO, Buckland noted that many would-be technology titans are staying private much longer. That has changed the calculus for the large law firms that serve them. Those that rely upon transactional work to fill their coffers, such as the Wall Street elite, have adjusted their margins to subsist upon the day-to-day billings of an outside general counsel, Buckland said.
Such prices pressures and the commoditization of legal services is something that Buckland expects to monitor as he immerses himself at Khosla Ventures, which he said has some investments in the legal space. As for Wilmer, a spokeswoman said that Brian Johnson, a New York-based co-chair of the firm’s capital markets practice, who served as co vice-chair of the corporate group since 2015, is now the vice chair. Fellow partners Gary Schall and Daniel Zimmermann serve as co-chairs of Wilmer’s emerging company practice.
Buckland will now busy himself with signing off on, rather than putting in, timesheets. “Hopefully I can provide some better perspective,” he said. “Venture funds are notoriously not happy about paying legal bills!”