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Zillow Co-Founder’s Real Estate Unicorn Hires First Legal Chief

April 8, 2021, 11:21 PM

Pacaso Inc., a real estate startup backed by former Zillow Group Inc. CEO Spencer Rascoff, has hired its first chief legal officer in David Willbrand.

Willbrand, head of the early stage and emerging company practice at the law firm Thompson Hine in Cincinnati, will join Pacaso six months after it began offering shared ownership opportunities for residential properties.

He’ll start April 19 and remain in Cincinnati, where the San Francisco-based startup also has an office, Pacaso spokeswoman Amy Musser told Bloomberg Law.

Willbrand’s move comes almost a month after the fledgling company hit unicorn status with a $75 million fundraising at a $1 billion valuation.

Bloomberg News has reported that low U.S. mortgage rates have fueled a housing rally as potential buyers flock to the suburbs in search of more space during the coronavirus pandemic.

The trend has spawned a flurry of transactional activity in the real estate technology space. A special purpose acquisition company backed by Rascoff last month agreed to take public home-selling startup Offerpad LLC in a $3 billion deal.

Many of those companies, like Pacaso, are now in the market for legal talent.

S. Patrick Abell, a former real estate associate at Thompson Hine, joined Pacaso’s Cincinnati operations in October as an in-house legal counsel, Musser confirmed.

Public records show that Thompson Hine has handled trademark work for Pacaso. Still, Musser said that Thompson Hine doesn’t serve as primary outside counsel to the company, whose name is inspired by the artist Pablo Picasso—an homage to users aspiring to own a second home or vacation getaway.

Pacaso’s co-founders are Rascoff, who in early 2019 stepped down as head of Zillow, the online real estate marketplace he helped start, and Austin Allison, founder of DotLoop LLC, a Cincinnati-based real estate startup that Zillow bought for $108 million in 2015. Thompson Hine advised DotLoop on that sale.

Willbrand didn’t respond to a request for comment, but his ties to DotLoop and Allison helped him secure the top legal job at Pacaso.

“I first met David in Cincinnati back in 2010 while working on my first startup, DotLoop,” Allison wrote Wednesday in a LinkedIn post touting Willbrand’s “mission-critical role” at Pacaso. “David is a rare combination of talent, intellect, and entrepreneurial instinct paired with an incredibly deep and broad understanding of his field.”

In a statement, Willbrand said he’ll miss his other startup clients and “teammates” at Thompson Hine but is excited about his new role.

“I’ve worked closely with Austin for many years, so making this move feels natural,” Willbrand said. “People in the world of startups understand and appreciate how incredibly rare it is to find a company with that special alchemy of great people, great funders, and great markets.”

Willbrand has spent 17 years as a partner at Thompson Hine, a firm he joined in 2004 after holding the dual roles of general counsel and chief financial officer at Bluespring Software Inc. and ePALS Classroom Exchange Inc., a venture capital-backed software developer and online education network, respectively.

Prior to that, Willbrand practiced law in Boulder, Colo. In more recent years he’s also taught classes on mergers and acquisitions and venture capital to law students at Syracuse University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan.

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

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

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